Friday, December 30, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust....

So... another year is down. It sort of freaks me out in a way when I think of how fast this year flew by.. I hope that they rest of my years won't all go past so quickly.

It seems to me that only a few days ago I was celebrating the holidays, and then I put some stuff away, cleaned something, went to work, and it was time to get ready for the 4th of July cookout... I started taking the hotdogs and hamburgers out to put them on a plate, and realized that my birthday flew by and that everyone had given me some really cool gifts! I opened one, and took a look at it, and the next thing I knew somebody was banging on the door, talking about "Trick or Treat!". I chucked some candy into a bag, the turkey was ready, and we had some Thanksgiving dinner, after which we put up the Christmas tree, decorated it, and headed off for our vacation... I got back from vacation... and now it's time for New Year's again.

I'm not quite sure whether to buy a Valentine's Day card, or to go Christmas shopping..

Where is the speed control on this thing, anyway??

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back from Vacation... and Need a Vacation!

The vacation went well, in the sense that we got there, did what we had planned, saw who we wanted to see, and got back all in one piece. However, I found that it was quite a bit stressful to me for a number of reasons...

The cats were more or less on their own for the week, which stressed me out more than I realized at the time. When I saw that they were fine, I was incredibly relieved.

Elysia's mom and my mom have something in common that is a part of their respective personalities... they tend to want to control and orchestrate every single minute and every activity. I don't see my mother all that often, so it doesn't really affect me all that much. I don't really see Elysia's mother all that often either, and when I do, I am generally so happy to be able to spend time with her that I tend to overlook this trait. But, a week can be a relatively long time.

I think I may be hitting an age where I have become more set in my ways than I had previously realized.

(NOTE: For the sake of Clarity and brevity, I call my mom 'Mom' and Elysia's mom 'Mommer' - I don't have any explanation, it just worked out that way...)

Mommer is an angel. She is quite possibly one of the kindest, loving, and most personable people that one could ever meet. When we visit with her, it is usually for a couple of days, and we pretty much always have a great time. She has a way of wanting to cram a month of stuff into a two day visit that can be sort of 'exciting', but we do our best to accomodate her and it always works out well.

When we arrived at her house, we wanted nothing more than to put on our 'yummies' (lounging clothes... sweats, jammies, big floppy t-shirts... you get the idea) and basically veg out and spend time visiting and talking.

No deal.

Mommer told us that a friend of hers who we don't actually know 'was dying to see us' and that we were scheduled to meet her for dinner. We cleaned up, got dressed, and trundled out to the vehicle to go to dinner. As it turns out, the friend didn't appear to want to see us at all... as a matter of fact, she just about hit the sidewalk on a run at the first socially acceptable opportunity... my wager is on the fact that Mommer most likely told her that 'Bear and Elysia are just dying to see you!' and this was how the whole mongasso of a dinner had been planned.

The next day, I was looking forward to sitting on the porch, walking about in the woods, and perhaps reading a little... once the holiday chores were completed... it was not to be. I got honswoggled into spending the day driving around with Mommer's husband. I will call him JG for the purposes of this blog. JG was born and bred right there in the community in North Carolina where they live. He isn't much of a conversationalist, doesn't really enjoy my company as far as I can see... and, if truth be told, although I like him and get along with him alright, I don't particularly enjoy being cooped up with him for any length of time. We have absolutely nothing in common, other than the awkward silences... and quite a few differences; in culture, upbringing, religiosity, tolerance, and pretty much everything. You name it, and we are different in it... I knew it had to be some sort of a planned set-up thing, because this doesn't generally happen. Elysia and mommer headed off to South Carolina to the chiropractor and to do holiday errands (I would have much more enjoyed going with them....) and I was more or less backed into going with JG. At one point, I even announced that I wasn't going due to an upset stomach, but this was pretty much tromped over and I got cornered into going along... yay.

One of the main characteristics of Mommer and JG is that they are very, very religious. They are fervent and zealous adherents to their particular denomination of the religion in which they believe, and they hold the opinion that everybody else is too... or that they should be. I, on the other hand, while being deeply religious in my own right, do not share their beliefs in any way, shape, form or fashion. We do not see eye to eye on anything as it pertains to religion. While I have no problem with other people having and pursuing their individual religious paths, they, on the other hand have a very difficult time accepting that other people do not believe as they do, and they expend a great deal of thought, planning, and engergy into encouraging, coercing, and sometimes bludgeoning other folks to believe as they do.

I find this distasteful, extremely uncomfortable, and a complete and utter waste of time. I will never change my religious beliefs. Ever. I believe as I do, and that is that. I am not lacking anything in my life, from a spiritual standpoint, and I am not seeking anything that can not be found in my current belief system. Simply put, I am an inconvertable prospect. I do not proselytize, and I do not accept proselytization directed towards myself. This creates a great deal of underlying tension and conflict that can run from amusing, to tedious, to downright obnoxious... depending upon how long one is forced to put up with the constant, never-ending subliminal programming... or the direct, in your face, preaching and sermonizing. Admittedly, Mommer is much more subtle and low-key in her efforts, which are usually not consciously pursued, and which are, consequently, much more palatable... if one must be forced to have to face this sort of thing. She is such a sweet-heart that it is very difficult to get annoyed or upset with her. JG, on the other hand sees the world as black and white. White, which is right (defined as his chosen path of faith and belief), and Black - which encompasses anything and everything else that does not fit his parameters. I am very black, apparently.

I am making a conscious effort to avoid naming either my religious path, or the path of anyone else. I don't want to get into a series of endless and ultimately unendable debates with readers who undoubtedly have religious paths of their own. I don't claim that my path is the right path, or that anyone else's path is the wrong path... In fact, I don't honestly believe that ANYone has the right path to exclusion of anybody else. In any case, nobody really knows... not in this life. They may fervently believe that they know... but that isn't the same thing. If I am wrong, then I'm wrong... but I believe what I believe, and I simply wish to be left alone to believe what I believe... whether I am right, wrong, or making a complete and utter ass out of myself.

I don't tell anyone else to believe anything... I don't try to convince anybody that they should or shouldn't follow whatever path they so choose... if they want to pile shit into a box, stick a stick into it with a bunch of straw tied to it and call that their god, then, as far as I'm concerned, it is their god, and I would never do anything to be disrespectful towards their god... so long as they don't happen to find my peaceful spiritual path to be a transgression. If they do...well, what we have is a conflict.

Well... what we have here, folks, is a conflict.

As JG pulled out of the driveway, he turned on a radio station that was non-stop preaching and sermonizing. Much of this was judgemental, and finding fault with other belief systems. This much is easily ignored, but then the conversation began to take the same bent. He told me that many of the folks that had come to the area as refugees from Hurricane Katrina had been 'way off the beaten path' and that they were messed up, bad, faithless, useless people..... until! Until they 'saw the light' and got on the right track - which is his track, by the way.... Now they are wonderful, marvelous people, and they are once again worthy of being treated with courtesy, respect, and love.

I considered this whole line of yammering to be a huge crock of unmitigated shit. But I didn't say so. I just listened, and didn't comment... at all.

This tended to drive him somewhat bugshit, and he got more and more direct... taking me to be introduced to a pastor, coming right out and saying that people who don't believe in his faith are lost, and that they have a huge burden on their heart that can be lifted at any time if the lost, burdened individual would simply make the proper choice and 'come back to the fold'.

I pointed out that I, personally, was never 'in the fold', and that the entire set of rules and scriptures that he was attempting to hold me to didn't apply to me anyway, since I wasn't one of the folks that it was directed at to begin with. I pointed out, using his own religious document - line, chapter, and verse - to illustrate how I was one of the 'other people' and thus, not included in anything that followed. I admitted that if he found joy in his faith and on his chosen path that I was extremely happy to know of it, and that I wished him nothing but joy and happiness in his beliefs, and that I had similarly found joy and happiness in my belief system, and that I didn't really need any help with any spiritual matters at all, but thank you for the kind thoughts.

Every other religiously based comment for the remainder of the day was met with, "Oh, look!! A Chicken!!" or some facsimile thereof.

Thouroughly frustrated at his abject lack of success in converting me, he lavished me with gifts - in the past these had been books, scriptures, and other similar items. This time they were key chains and t-shirts with the logos of his chosen religious organization. It would have been socially awkward, not to mention downright impolite not to accept them, so I did... though I am sad to know that they will never be used , worn, or displayed, and are therefore a lamentable waste of materials, money, and effort. Sigh.

The next round was taken up by my brother-in-law. Basically the same conversation, but I had my back up by then, and more or less used his own scriptures to lead him into circles or point out gross inconsistencies in what he was doing and what his own religion said that he should be doing. Bludgeoning people and passing judgement on people is simply not being loving, accepting, or charitable... in anybody's religion.

Earlier in the day, JG and the Brother in Law had gotten into a conversation regarding two men who had been found stabbed and deposited in a local shed. Apparently, they had been murdered in a drug deal gone bad. As it turns out, one of the men was married to a woman that was a member of JG and Brother in law's congregation. Elysia's sister had echoed my sentiment; that the woman must have been very upset and sad, and that it would be made worse by having happened so close to the holidays.... JG's response was that 'he never came to church', with the inference that since he wasn't an avid churchgoer... he wasn't worthy of our consideration.. sort of saying that his death was no great loss to anyone. He had earlier said to me that he had refused to hear god's call, so god had taken him out of the world. I don't know if this is true or not, but it seems like a particularly cruel thing to say in any case.

I had to basically just bite my tongue and let this stuff slide past me... but it got to be somewhat wearing over the course of the week.

I love them all, and I would not want to say or do anything that would upset them or make them feel uncomfortable. I only wish that I was given the same consideration. Even though I know intellectually that they do this out of what they consider to be my best interests, it is not welcomed and it is not wanted by me. I have given every signal short of being blunt and rude about it, but they fail to see it, or refuse to see it.

Were I to point out what I considered to be 'wrong' in their beliefs, if such a thing existed... they would be highly affronted, aghast at my blasphemy, and most likely the relationship would suffer greatly, or come to an end... on the other hand, they don't seem to have any compunction about letting me know how wrong my beliefs are, in so many words, or in peppering me with religious references... of their own choice,... or, indeed, in saying flat out that folks who are like me, resemble me, or possibly shared a similar thought or belief with me are 'off the beaten path', 'burdened', 'wandering in the darkness', or are just wrong. Plain and simple.

There appears to be some fallout already, judging from some terse responses to emails and such... so I suppose it won't fix easily.

I have never discussed my beliefs with them, never uttered a name or anything that would clue them in to what I believe or don't believe, and never, ever try to push them into sharing my beliefs, participating in any form of worship, ritual, or theological, cosmological or liturgical discussion or practice... and basically keep my religiosity to myself...

... I wonder why it is so much to ask that others do the same for me??

I could tell that this was having a stressful effect on Elysia, as well, though I think she is much more equipped to deal with this particular sort of thing than am I, her having grown up with it.

We did a bunch of pointless visiting around, and pretty much stayed hopping almost the entire time there. Not having any control over how your day is planned is a strange thing when you are an adult, regardless of the reason...

At some point, I think Mommer realized that Elysia wasn't enjoying herself at all.. and she more or less stopped planning things. It got quite a bit easier for everyone after that. We were able to spend some time actually visiting and spending time together, which was what the whole point was to begin with.

That part made the whole trip worthwhile, at least for me. Because, when all is said and done, I really do love the whole family and greatly enjoy spending time with them - minus the whole judgement and mind-control/soul-saving part.

The night before we headed home, we all went out and saw 'King Kong', which I thought was awesome!

The next morning, we were up early and out the door... and hour drive to the airport, only to be met with a huge (HUGE!) crowd of people, all with the same idea, apparently. We missed our flight, caught the next one, got stuck in Philadelphia for the whole day, and finally got home late last night, instead of early in the day as we had planned. We greeted the cats, got cleaned up and changed, and opened our gifts to one another. It was a marvelous, magickal, wonderful night and we both had a fantastic time!! The gifts were out of this world, and we ooohed and aaaahed and commented and got misty-eyed, and laughed... each in our turn.

When it got late, we turned out the lights, headed upstairs, and blissfully curled up in one another's arms... happily in our own bed, in our own little cottage, with our very own kitties... in our sleepy little village... we nodded off to sleep...

Monday, December 19, 2005

At Last...

At work, they file things.

Well.... they call it that.

To my mind, what they actually have been doing was to stuff various documents into folders in no particular order at all!

If somebody went looking for a folder, and was unable to find it NO PROBLEM!!
All you have to do is simply make a new folder!! See how simple that is??!

Why, you could end up with perhaps eight or fifteen folders with the same account name on it... and they could be spread out all over the place! It was quite the adventure!

As for where these items were placed, as a rule?? Well.... anyplace was fine! Once place was just as good as another!!

You must, by now, be starting to opine that there must be some dodgy bits to this system, for instance, when one needs to find a particular document one would think that one may be faced with some degree of difficulty. I can testify that, in fact, one was often faced with an insurmountable problem, to say the least!!

In more common terms, the file system (I use the term 'system' in the loosest possible sense, because, in all honesty, no system,... WHATSOVER... existed!!

This often impacted upon me, because when a client would call or fax over a list of perhaps twenty five, forty, or seventy invoices... guess who would be directed to find them and fax or mail copies back to the client... while still expected to handle an extremely high call volume, assist customers, and do all of the other odds and end that comprise the daily routine?? (If you guessed 'pushover jackass' you would be correct!)

Well... after contending with this vicious, vexating, miserable fucking situation for close to two years, I eventually snapped and let everyone have it, basically planting my feet, folding my arms, the epitome of the braw "Heelan' Laddie... fearing naught and stubborn as rocks!!"

Back in August or September, I had a meltdown over the friggin' file system, and bloody-well demanded that I would be given both the permission and the wherewithal to redo the entire file system... from the ground up. I basically refused to move or do anything else until they; a.) Acknowledged and validated my feelings about the current state of affairs. b.) Accepted the solution that I was offering, or, failing that, came up with a better one that was workable. And, c.) Allowed me to order the supplies that I needed to get the job done and promised not to climb all over me whenever I tried to take a wee while to work on the new system.

They pretty much realized right away that I wasn't budging on a single fucking detail, and that what I proposed would benefit all of us. It would make us more efficient, reduce salaried time spent on fruitless file searches, and make our lives somewhat easier. In short, it made good business sense. The job isn't over until the paperwork is done, and maintaining and storing records in a sensible and well-maintained fashion is just part of doing a proper job!

I received my supplies sometime in October, and after threatening to choke somebody's eyeballs out of their head if they refused to comply, got the lads to build me a lockable supply closet in what had been an alcove. So this afforded me the opportunity to keep some degree of control on office supplies, which were flying out the door and causing the business to hemhorrage money.... It also allowed me to segregate supplies that were earmarked for future projects (such as the new file system!).

I first sat down and compiled a list of every single account. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, by the way... I created a database, and was able to identify duplicate accounts and dead accounts by cross-referencing telephone numbers, addresses, and account activity. This enabled me to eliminate the duplicates, which made the job a wee bit more manageable.

I then started to produce labels for the files. After discussing the project at length with the staff, it was agreed that the filing system should mimic the account names, in that everything would be filed exactly the way the name showed on the account summary. For instance, if the account showed John Doe, it would be filed under 'J'. If it showed Doe, John, however, it would be filed under 'D'. It was weird and sort of disorganized, but that was what The Nose, The Fly, and The Old Man wanted... so I set to work.

When I was approximately three-quarters of the way done (say... five hundred labels), the owner showed up and overrode everyone's wants and wishes and decided that he wanted names to be last name, first name, middle initial. Period. Company names would be as is, but personal names would be last name first. Back to square one!!

I started working on the actual files just over a week ago. The first day, I was able to complete sixty-five. As the days chugged along, I was able to increase my speed to about eighty-five in a day (don't forget, I still have to handle my regular workload... and it has been fairly busy!).

Over this past weekend, it occured to me that I wouldn't have any time at all to get this done when I returned from vacation! I had to get this done before I left!! Talk about time pressure!!

Well. I went in there today like a man on a mission and got the damned job finished!! COM-PLETE-LY!!

I am pretty darned proud of myself! I worked like a lunatic, but I got it done!!

I wish you could have seen the looks on everybody's faces when I let them in on a little secret;

.... The alphabet actually has a pre-determined order!!

Wow! What a friggin' concept, huh??!! We might even be able to find some of this stuff after we file it!!

I don't think they had the slightest idea what I was talking about when I said I wanted to re-design the filing system. As a matter of fact... I have some doubts that they had any idea what I meant by the term 'filing system'.

I suspect that they simply intuited that I was on about something, that it didn't much impact on them all that much to let me have at it, whatever the hell it was... and that the worse thing about it was that I may be occupied with something that they saw no immediate function or benefit for... but that it would only last for about a week or two. So they let me do what I thought was best and let me be.

When they saw the new file folders, in order, neatly labeled, in a sensible and easily understandable fashion (Intuitive, even!), they almost shit!

NOW they get it!! Everyone was pretty much thrilled!! They can see how this is a good thing for everyone, and they were all very happy about it.

I'm happy too!!

Imagine that??? Being happy about something so completely idiotic and mundane as a flippin' filing system??

Holy Sheep-shit, am I strange, or what!!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Festival of Lights

During this Yuletide, as the Holly King is crowned and falls to his lighter aspect; the Oak King, the days will begin to stay lighter for longer... so we celebrate the return of the light from the ever-encroaching darkness by festooning everything in sight with beautiful lights! Evergreen trees were considered magickal in ancient times because they remained evidently alive and green during this seemingly dead time of year. As a result, the custom of decorating with evergreens has been a part of the seasons festivities ever they symbolized the survival and rebirth of the sun at Yule.

One of our yearly traditions here at Thistlebright is to go on our annual 'Yuletide Light Ride' and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season. We make awards - essentially cards proclaiming the recipient to have the 'Best Lights on the Block', which we affix to a candy cane with a bit of ribbon. When we see a house that knocks our eyes out and touches our heart, one of us grabs a candy cane, runs up to the house, and hangs the award in a prominent place. Our way of saying 'Thank You' for adding this touch of beauty to our lives...

More isn't always better, however... sometimes just a few lights, some evergreen, and some ribbon is enough to make a house so beautiful and inviting that we almost can't stand it!!

We generally listen to holiday music as we meander around, and we take huge cups of steaming hot chocolate to drink.

This is one of the most looked-forward-to events of the year, at least by me!!

This years Yuletide light ride was a smashing success!

We came home, fixed a couple of Metaxa and Cokes, put on 'It's a Wonderful Life' and snuggled up to relax... with only the white lights dancing on the tree...

Elysia gave me a beautiful new ornament; A golden oak leave with a copper colored acorn on it.. both hanging from a golden ribbon. The leaf and acorn were alive at one time... both have been dipped in copper, and then the leaf was plated in gold.

It is absolutely amazing!! Throughout the movie, my eyes kept sliding over to it, admiring it as it hung there glittering and winking at me!!

I held my girl close... sipped my drink... and thouroughly enjoyed my night!

Today was my last day at work before vacation! Yay!!

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Christmas Story...

Sometimes, the neatest and most special things aren't the things that you can plan... they just sort of happen on their own...

Sometime around 1984 or so, my platoon was scheduled to be in the field training during the Christmas holiday. We thought that this sucked for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that we were assigned to a weapons platoon, which consisted of the 'Mortar Maggots' - the 80mm and 160mm mortar guys, The 'Panzer Fausts (Anti-Tank)' (the Dragon and TOW gunners), the Stinger teams, the machine gunners, and the sniper squads, of which I was a member.

Generally, we are broken apart and assigned to various companies. For instance, my two man sniper team was assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Platoon. Each of the other sniper teams were assigned to other platoons and companies... and the same went for the mortar teams and machine gun teams. Basically, even though I was technically assigned to Headquarters company; weapons platoon, I went to the field and trained with Alpha company. It's confusing in writing, but simple in practice. The short version is that we were administratively assigned to HQ company, and operationally attached to whichever line company we happend to be assigned to. This was more or less a permanent gig, as we didn't switch around from company to company for the most part.

So... here it is, Christmas Eve, and the weapons platoon is supposed to be going out to the field to train as a unit, which, honestly.... is just plain stupid. I have no idea who's bright idea this was, though many of us had some suspicions...

We were airlanded at our drop zone, and moved out into the treeline after the sound of the choppers died down. It was a cold, clear night, with a sky simply full of stars. Snow was on the ground, and while the moon wasn't full, it provided a great deal of light. This made it seem like twilight, what with the snow on the ground.

We were pissed off when we had first heard the news that we would be working on Christmas, and for no good reason, and to no sensible end whatsoever... but, we were soldiers, and when it came down to it, we checked our gear, shouldered our rucksacks, and moved out without any grumbling.... .... well,.... without much grumbling, anyway...

We stayed on the move for some hours, hitting a series of checkpoints along our route and radioing our position back to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). We were going to be practicing a tactical reconnaissance of an objective (a mobile radar site - actually a U.S. Army mobile radar site. They had no idea that we would be coming..), after which we were going to be given orders to conduct a raid against the site, simulate destroying it, and then move back to a pre-determined pickup point.

What we didn't know is that they had some surprises in store for us... there was a rapid reaction force of soldiers prepared to pounce on us right after the raid, and we would have to rapidly retreat, setting up a series of hasty ambushes to slow down the pursuit (this is the sniper's job... we drop off and stay behind, drop a bad guy, then try to link up with the unit again at a pre-arranged rally point). We also set up a text book L-shaped ambush and actually creamed one entire platoon... but before all of this, we had no idea that it would pan out that way... the training was in fact very useful, and we had more or less, a good time. Back to Christmas Eve...

We had been moving for a few hours, and finally we reached what is called the ORP or Objective Rally Point. Here we set up in a 'cigar shaped perimeter' (not my term.. but it is what it is), check everything from A to Z, get a little rest if possible, the leaders do what is called a 'leader's reconnaissance', where they creep up and eyeball the objective to see whether it is still the way the pre-operation intelligence described it (it would be handy to know that three battalions have arrived to reinforce a potential target before one hurls oneself at said target...). Generally, they leave two guys watching the objective, and then come back and bring the remainder of the unit, minus heavy rucksacks and crap like that to conduct the raid. A few guys stay back to guard the rucksacks.

We had just arrived at the ORP, we are all lying on the ground.. in the snow... looking outwards... suddenly one of the guys stage-whispers "Hey! It's Christmas! Merry Christmas, guys!"

We all sort of rolled onto our backs, so that we could look towards the center of the circle, and, thus, at one another... and whispered 'Merry Christmases' and hand-shakes were exchanged. In the very center of our perimeter... dead center, in fact, was a small evergreen tree... one of the guys dug in his rucksack, took something out, and scuttled over to the tree... he had brought a small brass Christmas tree ornament with him, and he hung it on one of the branches of the tree. We all sat and stared at it for a few seconds... then one of the other guys went up and hung the pop top from a can of something that he had eaten on a branch... a little shiny metal disk, swinging from a ring... I followed suit by hanging my dog tags, and each of the guys in turn dug something out and decorated our tree.

The First Sergeant had been doing something during this, and he came around with a huge thermos of hot cocoa, and poured a bit into each of our canteen cups... shaking our hands and saying, "Merry Christmas, Dirtbag!", "Merry Christmas, Shit-For-Brains!", "Hey! Joe Shit the Rag Man! Merry Fucking Christmas!", "Merry Christmas, Useless!" to each of us in turn.

We sipped our hot chocolate, looking at our field-expedient Christmas tree, and the stars twinkled in the cold dark sky like distant, constant, companions.... I could smell the piney scent of the evergreens around me, mixed with wisps of hot chocolate and candy cane (Our platoon leader, (a first lieutenant) had followed the First Sergeant around, wishing us all a very Merry Christmas, thanking us for our service and our dedication, and neatly dropping a candy cane into our hot chocolate... like a gaily colored stir-stick. It was like drinking a cup of Girl-Scout Cookie!)

I felt a sense of complete and utter peace and contentment unlike anything I had ever experienced before that moment...

Norm, the senior sniper in our two-man team, back-handed me in the arm, snapping me back to the present moment. He handed me a box, wrapped in a brown GI towel, and tied with a shoelace. "Merry Christmas, Bro. I want my towel back after you open it."

I opened the package. It was a pair of Herman Survivor insulated combat boots. One of the other guys tossed something at me just then. It was a pair of thick warm woolen socks. "Merry Christmas, asshole!"

"Now, maybe we don't have to hear you snivel anymore about your fuckin' feet being cold! Merry Christmas! Wear 'em in good health!"

I dug out the presents that I had brought for the guys... thinking at the time that I was the only one who had done this. As it turned out, every single person had brought something along to give to each of us.

We sat there, admiring our gifts and smiling our asses off... eating cold pop tarts and drinking hot cocoa, and enjoying one another's company.

It was one of the best Christmases I ever had in my life...

"..It came without boxes, it came without bags, it came without wrapping, ribbons or tags. Maybe Christmas isn't something you buy in a store. Maybe Christmas is something a little bit more."

Dr. Seuss - 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'

Merry Christmas to all of you. Each and every one of you. Please take a moment during this holiday season to reflect on the fact that a great many of our number will not be home this Christmas with their families. They are in harm's way, protecting us, and our way of life.

While my heart will be with my wife and my family this holiday season, some part of it will be out in the field, with my fellow soldiers... drinking a watery cup of hot chocolate, freezing my ass off, and loving every minute of it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Compliment... Or Something....

Last weekend, I was scheduled to play a piping gig at a Presbyterian church not too far from where I live. The occasion was an ordination service for a lad who had been studying to become a minister.

My part was to play just outside the church for the arriving congregation, and then to play again at a reception being held in one of the special function rooms in another part of the church building.

I played for everyone as they arrived, and once the last member of the congregation had arrived, my wife and I went inside and took a seat in one of the last pews.

Generally speaking, it usually feels slightly awkward to me when I am in either someone else's church, a church of a different faith or denomination. This isn't because I am uncomfortable with the beliefs and traditions of other people... I'm not. It is chiefly because I don't want to make some faux pas or otherwise draw attention to myself under those circumstances.

So. Here I am, in full highland attire, after everyone just walked past me while I was playing the great highland pipes. Its a presbyterian church. Most of the congregation are either Scottish, think that they are, claim that they are, wish that they are, or heard of a scotsman once and know that scotsman are all supposed to wear kilts and play bagpipes (...ahem). It is just a wee bit difficult to remain unobtrusive under the circumstances...

So, anyway... I take my seat, and my wife is sitting next to me just to my right. On my left is an aisle that leads up to the altar, and just across the aisle is the long center pew. Sitting just on the other side of the aisle, perhaps three feet from me, is a woman. She gave me a great big smile when I first walked in and took my seat, and my radar is screaming at me because she has her head turned 90 degrees to the right and is blatantly staring at me. After about 20 seconds, I glance over at her, give her a smile in return, and go back to the program in my hand to try to figure out where we are in the continuum, so that I will know what is coming next, and whether I should be ready to stand, or sing, or read, or pretend to be reciting something, or what....

She returns her attention to the service for a few minutes, but eventually I realize that she is looking at me again. For some reason, this begins to make me feel extremely self-conscious, and, once again, I sort of glance over at her, nod, and smile. I am trying to let her know that I am noticing that she is looking at me, and that it is making me feel a little bit uncomfortable. She gives me a huge smile, and once again, returns the focus of her attention back on the service.

Not five minutes later, she is looking at me again!! I resolve myself to not look over at her this time, and keep my eyes riveted on the front of the church, or the hymnal, or whatever the hell is was that I was supposed to be looking at. This works for a little while, until I realize that she is actually leaning towards me and waving slightly in order to capture my attention. This is entirely too much for me to maintain my resolve, which crumbles immediately, and I look over at her... she is smiling her ass off and stage whispers, "You are simply ravishing!!"


I am staring at her... well... gaping at her, actually.. as my brain does its level best to wrap itself around this development and come to grips with it.

I am fairly certain that she was absolutely not coming on to me in a church full of people, including my wife who was sitting three inches to my right. She was simply trying to be friendly and to give me a compliment and let me know that she enjoyed my playing and felt that it added something to the occasion. She was making a nice gesture.

I understand this... and I understood it at the time... and there I was, mouth slightly open, staring at her as though I was addled.

I had this mental picture of Rita Hayworth in a red dress with red lipstick and nail polish, and a cloud of hair out to here, with cleavage and hips and legs goin' on everywhere... over which is superimposed an image of me, in a kilt, and ghillie-brogues, high-and-tight haircut... all 250 pounds of me... and I just can't reconcile 'ravishing' with me, or with anything about me.... and my brain is telling me that I should respond to this lady, because it would be the polite thing to do.... but I am thinking that she was aiming for 'dashing', which would be sort of cool because nobody ever told me that I was dashing before, and I feel that I wouldn't mind being dashing at all!! (As in, the piper arrived, looking dashing in his smart looking kilt and sporting a lovely sporran and plaid).

But she didn't say 'dashing'.... she said 'ravishing'. And I am still sitting there, just this side of drooling on myself... her smiling at me for all that she was worth, obviously very happy and proud of her choice of words... I expect that if she were to be called ravishing, she would be thrilled! (What woman wouldn't want to be called 'ravishing'??)

Finally.... FINALLY.... I managed to snap out of it and mumble a quick 'thanks.. that's very nice of you to say so...' before turning back to the hymnal, or whatever the hell it was that I buried my face in, trying to hide my glowing face and ears (no such luck, by the way...).

The woman had apparently been bursting with the desire to unload this compliment on me since I had taken my seat, because once she said this, she happily returned her attention back to the service and sang and prayed and stood and sat without much more of a look in my direction. (I guess she was shocked to realize that the piper was obviously suffering from a serious mental health issue, and wanted to be elsewhere...)

Perhaps eight minutes passed, and my wife nudged me with her elbow, signalling me to lean closer so that she could tell me something. I obliged her by leaning towards her and she whispered, "What did that dumb twit just say to you??"

I considered this for a second, then replied, "Well... ahh.... she apparently, um, finds me ravishing..."


"Mmmm..." (My ears are positively glowing now...)

"She actually said 'ravishing'??"


"That's what I thought she said...."


"Doesn't she know that women are ravishing??"

"I uh..."

She gives me a once over, and starts to giggle. Great.



"If she wasn't such an idiot, I would kick her ass!" (still laughing)

"I think she was just trying to give me a compliment..."

"Ravishing!! hee-hee!"

Great. The unending gauntlet of humiliation and degradation continues... (sigh).

To make a long story short... we finished up, and went home. The next day I got a phone call at work.


"Speaking!" (It was my wife..)

"Is this Bear... 'The Ravishing'??"

Oh, man....

So. Apparently, I am ravishing, and as such, I think I am entitled to special treatment, discounts, back rubs, and other tokens of worship and appreciation.

Bring it on.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Flea on a Griddle

This weekend went past like a whirlwind;

Friday night, Elysia had made an appointment to show the apartment in the front house to some prospective tenants. She had gone out and bought some blinds that had to be put up before the folks arrived to look at the apartment.

When I got home from work, I immediately noticed that she had been a busy bee all day! The windows were decorated beautifully for the holidays, and she had done a bunch of other stuff around the house.

One of the things was that she had taken all of the left-over turkey, and had made a big batch of turkey soup, which was just what the doctor ordered for a cold, windy, damp night!! When I walked in the door, she put a bowl of steaming, delicious turkey soup in front of me, served one up for herself, and we both sat and wolfed down our respective bowls of soup! That done, we headed over to the apartment to get the blinds put up before the people arrived to look at the place.

Working together, we got it done just in the nick of time. The folks arrived just as we finished up and had a look at the apartment. The real estate agent was a character, and the prospective tenant was a tough elderly woman who struck me as somebody who would most likely be rather.. um.... difficult to have as a neighbor.

My take on the whole thing was that she didn't find the apartment to her liking. Actually, my take was that she didn't find much of anything to her liking.... ever!

Once they took a keek at the aparment and cleared out, we locked everything up and went out to get our Yule Tree.

We go to the same place every year, and have a 'tree guy' who we enjoy seeing each year. He is a rather hefty, red-faced lad who sort of reminds me of a rougher version of the character George Castanza from TV's 'Seinfeld'. We generally spend about an hour joking and talking and basically laughing our asses off.

The place always has gorgeous trees, and somewhere along the line it has become our tradition to go there. This year was no exception in the tree department, and we picked out a beautiful fralsam (fraser/balsam hybrid) who we named 'Claire' (Yes.. every year we name our tree... no laughing!)

When we got home, we were just about to set it up when we discovered that the stand had a huge crack in it, in the place where it is supposed to hold the water for the tree... so, we put our coats back on, braved the cold, and headed back out in search of a tree stand. Not just any tree stand, either.. but a strong, beefy, hefty, bad-assed tree stand that wouldn't let our tree tip over, even in the event of an earth quake! (Okay... the earthquake part is a wee bit over the top... but, we wanted something sturdy).

We stopped at Harrows, which sells trees, but we didn't take into account that most of the trees they sell are made out of materials with nineteen syllables, will be here longer than rocks, and come with their very own stands built-in as a rule. We waded through the crowd of crazed, frantic, lunatic shoppers only to learn that they basically had a choice of two types of stands; 'flimsy', and 'complete shit'. Being unsatisfied with either, we breeped back out to the vehicle and headed towards the local K-Mart shopping center where we knew there was a moderately well-stocked garden center full of Christmassy goodness this time of year.

Upon our arrival at K-Mart, Elysia wandered off in search of some crazy PJs for her impending PJ sleepover party hosted by a fellow 'Stitch & Bitch' member. For my part, I was on a mission to find a stand. I managed to find a mongasso stand that looked like it would hold the Eiffel Tower ramrod straight if you upended the thing and stuck the top of it into the stand. I headed back over to the PJ department in search of my wife, where I found her with an adorably cute frustration wrinkle smack in the middle of her brow.

THE PROBLEM: She had found some PJs that fit the bill perfectly insofar as the design, colors, and material were concerned.... the problem was that the sizes of the top and the bottom were mismatched, and there was just the one set left on the shelves.

THE SOLUTION: I indicated the mannequin, and asked her whether she had checked the size on the PJs that the mannequin was wearing. She had not. Soooo... I accosted the mannequin, quickly undressing her and then redressing her in record time. Elysia got her PJs, the mannequin got a change of clothing, and I got to save the day. So everybody was happy.

We paid for everything and rewarded our remarkable diligence with a stop at the Paneria Bread place in the same shopping center. After being on my feet for 16 hours, it was heaven to sit with my wife and eat a tasty meal and listen to the laughter and light hearted conversations of all of the patrons, who, for some reason, always seem to be nice folks in that place. We had a conversation of our own, finished our meal, and headed home, where we finally got the tree into the stand.

That done, it was time to head up to bed at last. I was scheduled to work on Saturday morning, and had to be up early.

I got my sorry, tired ass up early Saturday, and headed in to work. It was a crankin' morning, but it wound down at around 11 o'clock. The bosses daughter came into the shop and during a conversation she suggested that we hold our own 'biggest loser' competition where we all weigh in on specific days, and through our own individual programs of diet and exercise, compete to see who will lose the highest percentage of body weight, the winner receiving a small cash prize and considerable word-fame (i.e., 'bragging rights'). We decided to have our initial weigh-in on Monday 12 December. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

After work, I blasted home, had another bowl of Elysia's turkey soup, and got ready to go to a bartending gig. It turned out to be a wedding, and the night went smoothly. It was a sort of limp, nondescript crowd, to be honest... and there isn't really much to tell. They were sort of beige. I finished up the night, came home to the last bowl of that turkey soup, and polished it off. We watched the end of a Frank Sinatra movie, and I began fading fast, so we headed up and I believe I was fast asleep before the mattress stopped moving from me flopping onto it.

Elysia woke me up with kisses and hugs and after looking out the window at the snow that fell during the night, and the squirrels and birds playing in it, we headed downstairs to start coffee and breakfast (waffles!), after which I dug out my highland attire, ironed what needed to be ironed, and then hit the practice chanter and pipes for an hour or so before showering up and dressing to head out to a bagpiping gig that I was scheduled for.

This job was an ordination ceremony for a new minister in a local presbyterian church.

I played outside the church for the arriving congregation, and then we headed in so that we could get seated for the ceremony. There had been some discussion as to whether I would play at the reception as well, but, in my experience with bagpipes, a little goes a long way. I opted to simply play before the ceremony. Since this was an ordination ceremony for a new minister, (I was hired by his mother...), I opted to defer any payment to me. I asked the mother if she would instead simply give the payment to the minister's (her son's) new congregation as a gift, instead. I think that there are certain occasions where accepting payment is sort of cheesy. He will be giving a great deal to a lot of people for a very long time. The least I can do is give him a small thing such as this to make his ceremony feel a little bit more special.

After the reception (we only stayed for a little while, actually....), we headed home, changed into sweats, and sat quietly for about an hour. Elysia worked on a crochet project she is planning on giving as a Christmas gift, and I sat and thought and browsed a magazine and listened to 'Echoes' on NPR.

Elysia began to fade at around 9 o'clock, and we turned everything off and headed upstairs... her to bed, and me to blog for a little while...

It seems to me that I just left work on Friday, and here I'll be heading back in in about six short hours. That's the way it goes, though, I suppose.

Tommorrow night, hopefully, we will be trimming the tree... which I am looking forward to immensely!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Social Blunder

When I arrived at work this morning, I was immediately assaulted by a particularly vile smell. It was reminiscent of garlic, but exponentially more noxious. It was pretty hideous... especially first thing in the morning.

One of the yard workers came into the office to do something, immediately wrinkled his nose, looked at me accusingly, and asked, "Did you fart??!"

As it turns out.. I did not.

The smell was getting worse, and I could tell that the customers were being affected by it as well, judging by the looks on their faces, and the green around their gills.

Finally, unable to take it any longer, I propped the front door open to let some fresh air in.

After about two minutes, the old man walked up front from his desk, started raising hell about the door being open, and closed it. (He is incessently cold, even though the rest of us will be sweating our asses off... he insists that the doors and windows stay closed and the the heat stay on high.. we try to oblige him as much as possible, but, there are times when it is difficult. Today, in particular, it was literally unbearable... so, after a little while, I opened the door again...)

At some point, the old man walked past me, and I realized that the smell was emanating from him! (Apparently, this smell was the reek of his breath. I have no idea what he ate, but he was killing us with the smell. I can deal with garlic breath, onion breath, garden variety halitosis, kimchi breath, and what have you... but this smell could have knocked a vulture off of a gut-wagon at 20 meters.)

When the old man realized that we had opened the door again, he started ranting and raving and cornered The Nose, demanding that we close the door and put the heat on. The Nose, not being the world's foremost repository of moral courage, acquiesed immediately and ordered us to close the door and turn the heat back on. He then grabbed his car keys and fled, ostensibly to avoid further discussion of the matter with any of us....

This sort of pissed me off... though I'm not sure why. Most not-shit issues roll off my back, but I was somewhat irked by being forced to smell somebody's nasty-ass breath, and to not have any recourse at all.

The old man, realizing that he had won the point, decided to come up to where we were working and gloat. Loudly, and verbally.

He began by calling us jackasses and morons, went through the entire litany of insults, from our lineage to our intellect, and on to our individual appearance and physical characteristics, our work habits, our moral fortitude (or lack thereof) and our sexual proclivities... this was met with general silence, as we simply ignored him and continuted to work.

Apparently, not deriving the level of satisfaction that he had hoped to glean from this verbal assault, he decided to raise the level of aggression a wee bit and thought that leaning very close to me and screaming into my face might just do the trick. The experience was somewhere along the lines of smelling a hyena's fart or dunking one's head into a rotting cesspool. I was less than thrilled.

Not wanting to be overly confrontational, I asked him to take a step back and let me get on with my work.

He leaned forward and yelled "Why?! You fucking JACKASS... WHY??! DOES THIS BOTHER YOU??? SO!! THE ZEN MONK CAN BE BOTHERED!! What's the MATTER, Can't take a little Ribbing???"

I turned my face away, trying to avoid the nauseating miasma of his breath, and said, quietly, "That's not the problem, just do me a favor and take a step back, okay??"

He became affronted by this, and demanded to know what the problem was. For my part, I was starting to get my back up and should have known better than to continue the conversation. It would have been smarter for me to have left, and gone elsewhere for a wee bit until he went back to his desk on his own... but, I'm a stubborn prick at times, and this was a time, I suppose.....

I asked him, "Do you really want to know??" (Folks, when I ask you if you 'really want to know' the answer to a question, I am most likely setting you up for a bomb. Pretty much, if the answer wasn't a volatile one to my mind, I would just blurt it out. When I am asking somebody to reiterate to me that, yes, they really want to know, I am basically covering my ass so that I can later say something like, "Hey... you demanded to know!". Basically, things are going south... and quickly.)

He asserted that "Yeah Asshole!! I wanna know!!" in a loud, arrogant, and thunderous voice. He made sure that he had everyone's attention, and, more or less, he did.

He said he wanted to know...... so I told him.

"Bro, I'm asking you to take a step back, because your mouthwash ain't makin' it. Your friggin' breath smells like a hobo's asshole, and you're making me nauseous. So take a fuckin' step back, and get your stanky ass out of my face. Don't make me ask you again, alright?"

Everyone started to crack up, and he.... well. I had heard of coniption fits, but had never actually seen one. He absolutely came unglued. The man lost his fucking mind! He was trying to go in eighteen directions at once, sputtering and spitting and absolutely purple with rage and indignation. Finally, in a frustrated attempt to express his fury, he literally threw a book at my head! I caught it, and placed it on the counter, and turned back to my work.

Part of me feels bad about it, and part of me feels that it was well-deserved. I say this because he is forever dishing it out to everyone, with no regard to their feelings, or whether what he is saying is acceptable or not. He attacks FatCat about his being overweight, which FatCat laughs off on the surface, but which I imagine must sting to some degree... he calls all of the workers of hispanic descent 'wetbacks' which really burns my ass. They work their asses off, are always cheerful and cooperative, and never show any anger or displeasure to anyone. They don't deserve to be called names at all, nevermind ethnic slurs. He likes to bully people and everyone has to just swallow it, and that's all well and good. But, apparently, he doesn't like to get it back in return.

Needless to say, it was a little bit awkward for the rest of the day. Just about everyone made it a point to swing by and tell me that "it was about time", or "he had it coming" or words to that effect. So I suppose that the general view is more or less on a par with mine.

I still feel like I made a bit of a foul, though...

Well, be that as it may, I am sticking to it. Sometimes, the only thing that some people respect is strength. Be it physical strength, or strength of will. He decided to test my mettle today, not me.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Just to be Clear on Something...

On three separate occasions today, persons of 'authority' made comments to me regarding my interpersonal relationships with customers... in each case, I was advised, to one degree or another to adjust my relative level of friendliness and care with regard to the amount of money the individual in question spent, or was likely to spend over the course of the foreseeable future.

In other words, I heard things such as; "You don't have to take so much time going out of your way to be helpful to him. His business is tanking. He won't be spending any money here for a while."


Or; (In response to me commenting ((I take notice that this comment was most likely inappropriate, but the customer was gone, and I was talking to a coworker, and was overheard)) that a particular customer who had just left was an insufferable arrogant asshole at times, and that he seemed to have been taking extra pains to test my patience during this particular visit.

I was told, "He drops $120 grand a month.. his used toilet paper is worth more than your entire life... you'll lick his ass if he tells you to."

Okay... first off. No, I most certainly will not lick his or anyone's ass. Ever. Either literally, or figuratively.

Second. The day I treat any person in a particular way based upon the value of their current, past, or projected material wealth will never come in my lifetime.

Lastly. I am revolted, disappointed, appalled, and insulted that anybody anywhere and for any reason at all puts so much emphasis on things, be they money, cars, houses, or any other objects. I think its obscene and disgusting and I feel nasty and dirty for even taking part in it. Even in the remotely peripheral fashion that I do.

I take people as they come, and treat them with respect until they force me to do otherwise by their actions. I don't care what they own.

The nose, upon entering the metal shop where pizza had been delivered for our lunch today, saw me just about to take a slice of pizza for my lunch and said, "Get the fuck up there!" (meaning the counter).

I said, "Excuse me?"

He responded, "I said 'get the fuck up there!'"

I thought about this for a second, then said, "Are you talking to me???!"

He said, "Yes! Get the fuck up there!"

I replied, "Are you out of your fucking mind?? You don't talk to me like that! Who the hell do you think you are?? YOU get the fuck up there!! I'M getting my lunch! Once I've gotten a slice of pizza and poured myself a drink, I'll go up front. You better watch how the fuck you talk to me.. I'm not your slave, and I'm not your child. Understood?"

He said, "Please, will you go up front?", at which point I had finished getting my lunch, and I headed up to the counter.

It was my time to get my lunch, and somebody was covering the counter. There was no reason whatsoever for him to talk to me in this fashion. Well... no reason on the surface. There has been some kind of a power-issue that I've detected from my dealings with him. It is specifically directed at me, though I have seen it manifest itself towards others as well. Its extremely tiresome.

What bothers me about this, is that I know he judges me based entirely on what I own, or what he perceives me to own. My character, intellect, work ethic, honesty, integrity, courage, or kindness aren't even considered. His sole judgement of me is based upon what I possess. As it turns out, my main focus in my life tends not to be material wealth, money, or possessions. I count my wealth in other ways. This means that he will never perceive me as anything but a sub-human who is not deserving of even the slightest bit of common courtesy or compassion.

That sucks.

Whichever way it goes, I refuse to rework my life-view to please him or anyone else. I suppose this is one of life's tests that I have to submit myself to in order to learn whatever it is that this particular difficulty has to teach me.

It seems that life lessons are never all that much fun.

Oh well. Every day he wakes up and he is him. He barely loves his wife, doesn't much like himself, and puts on a mask to face the world.

I wake up every day next to my wife, who loves me, and who I adore. I am content with who I am, and confident in my abilities, and I wear my own face, everwhere, and every day, regardless of who happens to approve or disapprove of it.

I may not have much... but I have more than I ever could have dreamed of.

Goodbye, Mr. Miyagi. You will be missed.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

An Unexpected Houseguest

On Thanksgiving Day, Elysia and I went to her aunt's house for Thanksgiving dinner. We had a nice time and headed home somewhere around five or six PM. When we walked in the door, we noticed right away that some of the magazines and papers that had been on the coffe table were now strewn on the floor.

"Some kitties were being naughty while we were gone.." Elysia pointed out. Then, as we walked towards the kitchen, we saw some of the chotchkas that had been on the baker's rack were now on the floor. "Wow! Some kitties were being very bad, apparently.." she said, a slight tone of annoyance creeping into her voice. (Our cats will sometimes chase one another around and act rambunctious, but, all in all, they are extremely well-behaved, and this was very much out of character for them).

We headed upstairs to change into lounging clothes (jammies, sweats, that sort of thing..), and as we walked into NASA (we have two bedrooms in the cottage; one is actually our bedroom, the smaller of the two, and this one we call, strangely enough, 'The Bedroom' (hee-hee), the other room, which is about twice the size, we use as our combination library, office, computer room, den, etc. Elysia's closet is actually in that room as is her bureau, the bedroom being much too small to house them... When we first moved in, we had three or four computers hooked up (( all old crappy kludged-together pieces of junk that each served a different function ... they have all since died and passed on to cyber-heaven... or wherever it is that computers go when they konk out )) with monitors everywhere, and the place looked sort of like a control room or something. When our brother-in-law first saw the room, he remarked, "Geez! What is this place? NASA??!", so, ever since that day, this room has been called NASA. (I write to you from NASA every time I post...) - Herendeth the tangent - ANYway, we walked in to NASA, engrossed in the conversation that had started on the drive home (We are CONSTANTLY talking to one another about something...) and immediately noticed that stuff was strewn about everywhere; stuff that had been on her desk was on the floor, stuff that had been on my desk was on the floor, other stuff was knocked over or otherwise disturbed, and Elysia said, "These guys must have really had a good time chasing each other around like assholes while we were gone, huh?!!" We sort of laughed it off, and picked everything up, putting it all back where it belonged. Once that was taken care of, Elysia began rummaging around in one of the drawers of the bureau, digging out her lounging clothes, and I was standing there listening to her when the realization hit me that I was smelling something that didn't belong. Keeping part of my brain focused on what she was saying, I let the other part of my brain run free to try to identify the smell, which was marginally, though not completely, familiar to me. Finally it clicked in my mind that I was smelling an animal smell, though why I would be smelling that in my house was beyond me... then it all fell into place. Stuff knocked down everywhere. Out of character for the cats. I had noticed a few drops of blood on the wall on the staircase that had barely registered... and now I was smelling an unfamiliar but distinctly animal smell. I began to scan the room with my eyes, looking into the dark shadowy areas and behind things... I looked past Elysia's head and saw a grey-brown furry body huddled up on the top shelf of the bookcase. A fucking squirrel was in the house! I didn't want to startle it, because the nearest surface for it to jump to was Elysia's head! I wanted to interpose myself between the squirrel and my wife, and I wanted her out of there NOW!

While she was talking, I reached for her arm to pull her away from the bookcase, but she shied away from me by turning her upper body to keep her arm out of my reach.

"Damn It!!" I hissed, and stretching, I caught her by the upper arm and pulled her towards my while saying "Come over here NOW. DON'T turn around. There's a squirrel on the bookcase behind you!" (Most animals react negatively to being looked at directly, and most prey animals recognize that two eyes on the front of a face belong to a predator ((two eyes on the front of the head for stereoscopic vision necessary for pouncing and judging distance in order to catch prey)) and most animals, from insects on up will attack eyes. I didn't want her turning around with her face less than two feet from something that could conceivably hurt her.)

She obliged me (finally!) by coming away (If she hadn't, she was going to get ripped out of there and she could have been angry with me. But I wasn't going to let her get hurt. Period.) and, looking back, she asked, while staring up towards the top of the bookcase, "There's a what??!"

"There's a squirrel on the bookcase."


"On the top shelf.."

"There is not a squirrel up there!"

"In fact there is."


"On top of the bloody bookcase!"

Peering at the top shelf, she said, "Oh Bullshit! That's not a squirrel!"

"It is clearly a squirrel."

"Its a baseball hat!"

"Well. I don't know what the hell you're looking at, but I am not referring to the hat!! I was talking about the smallish fur-bearing mammal with the bushy tail that is abso-fucking-lutely a fucking squirrel!"

At this point, I retrieved my Streamlight flashlight, which casts a very bright beam, and shined it on the squirrel.

Elysia took a half a step forward, studied the critter for a few moments, and then confidently announced, "That's a fucking squirrel! ... What the FUCK is a squirrel doing in the house??!! ....... HOW DID A SQUIRREL GET IN HERE?? It CAN'T be a Squirrel!! How the fuck could a squirrel get in here!?!?! Did somebody come and INJECT a squirrel into the fucking house?? None of the windows are broken. The house is made of brick. HOW THE FUCK DID IT GET IN HERE!!!"

I pointed out that the more pressing question was "How the fuck are we going to get it OUT??"

We stood there, both staring at the squirrel, brains going a thousand miles a minute.

For his part, the squirrel had apparently had enough for one night. The cats had kicked the snot out of him, and he was trying to shove his own head up his own ass, with his tail wrapped around the little bit that was left visible. This was the best impression of an ostrich that I had ever seen a squirrel perform.

I reasoned that the presence of the cats at this point was most likely a hindrance, and suggested that we lock them up and start closing doors to limit access to the rest of the house. Elysia agreed, and we got moving. I caught one cat, and she caught the other, and we locked them in the bedroom, much to their mutual dismay and disappointment. Once that was accomplished, I opened the front door and propped open the screen door, to allow the squirrel an exit route once I got it moving.

Using her considerable intellect with the practicality that she so often displays, Elysia sprung into action and rigged up some blanket walls (using crochet thread of all things) along the staircase bannister to channel the squirrel all the way down the stairs and out the door.

As for me, I figured that the squirrel and I most likely had the same goal in mind; getting the wee bugger outside and out of the house with as little commotion as possible. From my police days, I knew that the best way to handle any situation was to start out with the lowest degree of force and aggression as possible, because while you can always easily raise the degree of aggression or invasiveness, it was very, very difficult to lower it back down once you hit a particular level of aggression or force. Besides, the last thing I wanted was a berzerk (i.e. Pascagoula*) squirrel ricochetting off of the walls and destroying the house.. or, more to the point, fastening itself on me with some demonically murderous intent (I could already envision the lifelong gauntlet of mockery and humiliation that I would be forced to endure... starting with Elysia purchasing a stuffed animal squirrel, sewing it to the back of a jacket, and wrapping it up as a Christmas present for me to open publicly in front of the rest of the family.... yikes. ((treebark camouflage sweats, pajamas with acorns glued to them, I would be doomed to squirrel taunts for the rest of my miserable life!)) So. I planned on taking this slowly, with kindness and forethought and, perhaps with some degree of wisdom). With a wee bit of luck, I thought that perhaps I could get out of this with both my hide and my dignity intact. At least, I hoped so....

Once everything was set, I went up into NASA, walked over to the bookcase, and simply talked to the squirrel for a few minutes. (No, I don't have any illusions or fantasies of being Dr. Doolittle, but I figured that just about anything recognizes a non-threatening tone of voice). I began removing items from the shelf around the squirrel, who remained curled up in a ball, shivering slightly with fear. Once the obstacles around it had all been removed, I reached out and stroked its fur once with my index finger.

"Hey little guy..."


I stroked it again, and then began to pet it as I talked...

"C'mon, now... it's time to go. Nobody is going to hurt you... "

Pop! Out came the head. One bright shiny beadly little black eye staring at me.

I stepped away and indicated the door with my hand and a movement of my head.

"C'mon you.... time to go. There are no trees here. Go on.. its okay."

It moved to the side of the bookcase, and, head downwards, began to climb down.

I turned the computer chair, which sits right in front of the bookcase so that the back wasn't blocking the way for the squirrel to jump onto the chair.

"Come on... what a bonnie wee critter you are! Let's go, now..."

Sproing! It jumped on to the chair and sat up, looking at me. The nose was going a hundred miles a minute as it sniffed the air for danger. Bright little eyes stared into mine, and the tail began to twitch a warning.

"Don't you fash yourself, little buddy. Nobody wants to hurt you."

I stepped back and away, giving it a little room, and letting it know that I wasn't trying to close the distance in any way.

It sat there, looking at me, and calmed visibly. The tail stopped twitching, and it simply looked at me. Once again I indicated the door to the room...

"That's the way out, pal. Don't you want to go outside?? There aren't any trees in here. Go on now..."

Apparently, it finally dawned on the squirrel that I was giving it a way out of this house of horrors. It hopped down to the floor, gave me a look, and then it simply walked with a slow deliberate dignity towards the door, where it sat up and looked back at me for encouragement, I suppose.

"They're all locked up. It's Okay. Go on."

The little fucker was satisfied with that, I guess, because it lowered its forepaws to the floor and walked out the door to the top of the stairs and leisurely hopped down the stairs until it reached Elysia, where it gave her the once over.

"Tchct! Outside!" Elysia commanded, and the squirrel walked out the door, turned and gave us a last look, as though saying "Goodnight folks, thanks for the hospitality. Get rid of the cats, though!", and then it walked off into the night.

We both got a good laugh at the brazen little shit's incredibly ballsey attitude!

What next?!?!

* The Day the Squirrel Went Berzerk

Well when I was a lad, I'd take a trip
Every summer down to the Mississip
To visit my granny and her anti-bellum world
I'd run bare-footed all day long
Climbing trees as free as a song, and one day
I chanced to catch myself a squirrel
I stuffed him down in an old shoe box and
Punched a couple of holes in the top
And when Sunday come, I snuck him into church
I was sitting way back in the very last pew
Showing him off to my good buddy Hugh
When that squirrel got loose and went totally berzerk

The day the squirrel went berzerk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pasquagula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
We were jumping pews and shouting

What happened next was hard to tell
Some thought it was Heaven, others thought it was Hell
But the fact that SOMETHING was among us was plain to see!
As the choir sang "I Surrender All"
That squirrel ran up Harve Newman's coverall
Harve leapt to his feet and said,
"Something's got a hold on me!"

The day the squirrel went berzerk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pasquagula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
We were jumping pews and shouting

Harve hit the aisle a-dancing and a-screaming
Some thought he had religion, others thought he had a demon
And Harve
Thought he had a weed-eater loose in his Fruit-of-the-Looms
As he hit his knees to plead and beg
That squirrel ran out of his briches leg
Unobserved to the other side of the room
He ran all the way down to the amen pew
Where sat Sister Bertha, better than you
Who was watching the whole comotion with sadistic glee
You should have seen the look in her eye
When that squirrel jumped her garter and crossed her thigh
She leapt to her feet and said, "Lord, have mercy on me!"
As that squirrel made laps inside her dress,
She began to cry and commence to confess
To sins that would make a sailor blush with shame
She talked of gossip and church dissention
But the thing that got the most attention
Was when she talked about her love-life - and then she started naming names!

The day the squirrel went berzerk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pasquagula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
We were jumping pews and shouting

7 deacons and the pastor got saved
And $2500 got raised
And 50 vollunteered for missions in the Congo on the spot
Without even having an invitation
There must have been 500 rededications
And we all got rebaptized whether we needed it or not
You've heard the Bible stories, I guess
How he parted the waters for Moses to pass
All the miracles God hath wrought in this ol' world
But the one I'll recall 'till my dying day
Is how He put that church back on the narrow way
With a half-crazed Mississippi squirrel!

The day the squirrel went berzerk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pasquagula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
We were jumping pews and shouting

The day the squirrel went berzerk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pasquagula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
We were jumping pews and shouting

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Back on Track

I had big plans to get back to work all motivated and rarin' to go after my day off. As it turns out, I started feeling pretty shitty again last night; the room was swimming, and the bed was spinning, and my head was splitting. I woke up with the alarm, and just about puked when I tried to sit up. I picked up the phone instead, called in, and decided not to try to walk the five steps to the bathroom in order to pee because I just *knew* that if I stood up it was all over...

I went back to sleep and slept another five hours, straight through and woke up with a headache and body-wide 'baby grip' but feeling better than I had, otherwise, in days.

I had a cup of coffee, watched a 'Nova' episode about Sir Isaac Newton's Dark Secrets, and came up to check email and perhaps blog a bit. That was at about 1:30PM. The next thing I knew, I snapped awake in my computer chair at 4:30PM and got up feeling fine! I jumped in the shower, shaved my face, and am actually feeling better than I have in recent memory. I'm ready to get back into the thick of things tommorrow morning, and, hopefully, with a better attitude.

On Friday, some shitbird stole my calculator. It's a cheap-ass $8.00 calculator, but it's mine - I spent my own money to purchase the damned thing, and it was at my workstation where anyone with a fucking brain cell would be able to deduce that it wasn't set out there for the taking. It had my name written on it in magic marker, and on the back in whiteout. It isn't about the friggin' eight bucks, now, it's the principle that really burns my ass!! I posted about this in a post entitled Boundaries back in May. It absolutely infuriates me that these FUCKS feel that they have the right to simply take whatever they so desire because they need it and therefore feel entitled to take something, regardless of who owns it!! What the FUCK is that???!! I know damned well that whoever took the fucking calculator knew that it was mine, and they simply didn't care. I don't matter. I have no priority whatsoever, and am therefore not entitled to the minimum of common courtesy. The saddest part of this, is that if I had seen the person actually taking something that belongs to me and made an issue out of it, the management would have either disciplined me on the spot, or would have directed me to simply let the customer have the item (which, you had better know, would absolutely NOT happen. Which, I am sure, would create a huge stramash, but I don't fucking care!)

In any case, there isn't much that I can do about it, apparently, other than to hawk my belongings, and/or keep them on my person at all times. This is something that should be simply a minor annoyance, but I must admit that it is vexing the living shit out of me. If I should catch someone taking my shit, I am most likely not going to be very amicable about it. I suppose it's better that I didn't, because knocking the living shit out of a customer can't do much for either your annual raise, or your holiday bonus, I would imagine...

In other news, I have begun picking up the pipes and practicing once again. I'm horrified by how much my skills have deteriorated, but I don't suppose I should have expected anything else. You practice, or you lose it. That's the way it works.

I have a Bagpipe job on December 4th, and I had better damned well be proficient enough to play the job by then or I'm going to look a right fine eejit!

I guess the pressure's on....

I am playing with the idea of getting up an hour earlier each morning so that I can either stretch on my own, or do Yoga with Elysia. The lazy part of me wants to sleep. The warrior part wants to train. The thing is that I want time with her, so I stay up later than I should; not wanting the day to come to an end. Which means that I am much too tired to drag my sorry ass out of bed in the morning. It would stand to reason that if I just caved in and went to bed at an earlier hour, got a decent night's sleep, and got up to train, that is still time spent, and, honestly, probably better spent training and doing something constructive than sitting on my fat ass in front of the tube letting my brain turn into oatmeal.

I guess I know what the correct decision is... it's just a matter of actually putting it in to practice.

Of late, it seems that I have allowed my schedule to become this all-inclusive crutch that I lean on that somehow gives me leave to let everything else go and fall apart. This is majorly fucked up and needs to be attended to. I think it all boils down to the proper mental attitude... and my attitude hasn't honestly been all that great.

This enforced rest has done wonders for me. I am ready to start working on whatever needs to get done.

I cannot (CAN NOT!) believe that the holidays are upon us already!! I almost drove off the road the first day I noticed the holiday decorations up on the lamp poles in our village! It seems like I was just putting that stuff away, did a few things, and here it is time to drag 'em out again!!

This isn't a bad thing in the sense that I dislike the holidays or anything... quite to the contrary.. I LOVE the holidays!! But I feel as though my life is flying past at breakneck speed, and I'm afraid that I'll wake up and find that I'm 87 years old, and have no idea where the time went... sigh.

Nothing to be done about it, other than to simply try to immerse myself in the moment and enjoy my life, ay??

I think I will build a shrine to coffee so that I can worship it properly.

While I am aware that it is not good for me... I must also concede that if I don't drink coffee, it may very well be unsafe for others... so; being the type of guy that I am, I must make this difficult sacrifice in order to protect the safety of others, even to the detriment of my own health!

... Yeah!! That's it!!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Enforced Battery Recharge

I haven't been posting all that much due to time constraints forced upon me by my work schedule, which has been very hectic lately. For those of you who have left comments that have gone unanswered, I apologize... I haven't had more than a couple of minutes in a row to string together in a good while... and when I do, I want sleep.

In any case, I have been working, and work has been stressful.

I tended bar over the weekend, first for a sweet sixteen party (we absolutely hate these things, by the way... they suck). Nobody makes any money, and basically we spend the entire shift warding off increasingly more devious attempts by the underaged crowd to get their hot little hands on alcohol. We don't serve them, and if we see them drinking anything that even hints of being an alcoholic beverage, we take it away. Period. None of us is getting locked up because some gob-shite wants to get shitfaced at their school-chum's sweet sixteen party.

So, that was a lot of fun... two hundred 15-16-17 year olds ricochetting off the walls, and being generally obnoxious. The wait staff looked like they had been through hell by the end of the night, and the bar staff, which consisted of me, wasn't particularly thrilled either.

Last night I worked a wedding. There is an axiom among the more cynical of us relating to Sunday weddings. For some reason, they (they being not only the hosts, but the guests as well...) always seem to be low class smallheads. Let me be more specific: Low class, unbred, inbred, obnoxious, rude, arrogant, ignorant, mis-behaved, uneducated, ill-bred, toothless, over (or under) dressed, over (or under) sexed, nasty, demanding, ungracious, impolite motherfuckers. There. That about explains it. They basically suck. Not all, (I am generalizing here) but most. I don't know what it is, but it just seems to work out that way. I don't know if this is true everywhere, but it is certainly true here. If you are scheduled to work a Sunday wedding, it will invariably be a freak show. One of those things, apparently....

Well, I was scheduled to work a Sunday wedding... and it was a freak show. Not only did we get to enjoy a reprise of the 'underaged attempting to drink' act, which completely sucks big greasy moose balls, because the management gets exceedingly jittery, which often translates to them standing at the bar screaming at us, even though we haven't done anything wrong.

This is great fun.

On top of this, the assortment of guests was just this side of 'Night of the Living Dead' meets 'Deliverance'. It was hideous.

Partway through the night, I suddenly became extremely shaky and queasy. The room began to swim, and I just knew I was going to puke. (Puking at someone's wedding is bad enough when you are a guest... being a member of the staff and puking is something that I preferred not to do. I could already hear the stories being told in hushed whispers between other staff members as they flitted around in the kitchens... "Did you hear what Bear did?" - ah, no thanx!) I motioned to the Maitre'D, advised her to stand by the bar, and headed for the men's, where I did my very best to turn myself inside out for about 15 minutes. It was lovely. I was sweating profusely, mildy disoriented, and shaking when all was said and done. I washed up, and headed back to the bar. Not 20 minutes later, I was at it again, only worse... When I emerged the second time, they had moved my bar over to where the main bar was located (Presumably to have somebody always in control of the booze..). I made a third trip, and the owner came in and asked me if I wanted to go home. I told him that I was going to finish my shift, help with the clean up, and then, and only then, was I going home. I said that if I was found lying on the floor, I would be willing to go home at that time, but in absence of that, I was there for the duration. He said that If I wanted to go home, that was okay, and if I wanted to stay, that was okay too.

I started feeling a little bit better after that, and poured myself a ginger ale to sip. At one point, they began to play Boyz 2 Men's "I'll Make Love to You". At one of the tables sat a woman. A hideous sun-demon of a woman, my size at least, with lank short blonde hair, in her late forties or early fifties. Gravity had taken it's toll on her, and she had an enormous pair of breasts that had turned into flattened wine bags that hung limply... still copious, but not in the least bit attractive... at all. Not even a tiny bit.

Well, she had been asking vaguely probing questions all night long. Was I married? Where did I live? Did I work anyplace else? Did she know me from someplace? Did she look familiar to me? What did I do after work? Was I lonely? She was freaking me out from step one.

So now Boys 2 Men are crooning "I'll make love to you.. like you want me to", and she is pointing at me when they sing 'you' and making what I suspect were supposed to be suggestive and alluring faces at me... they came across as threatening and frightening, actually, and I wanted to run. The woman was obviously a barking lunatic, and somehow she had become focused upon me. Lucky me. Boyz got to some part about 'Anything that you ask, I will give you the love of your life' and to emphazize the word 'love' she cupped her breasts with both hands and gave them a heave... I think this was intended to close the deal and place me completely under her trance... but I don't think she counted on what that actually looked like from where I stood. Basically like two fifty pound bags of cottage cheese getting tossed in the air... it was repugnant and vile and I wanted to cry.

It was the perfect cap for a perfect night.

There and then I started cleaning up and packing my shit. There was still twenty minutes left to the party, but I didn't give a hairy rat's ass. I was out of there, and if anybody tried to stop me or slow me down, they were welcome to make the attempt to their peril.

Happily, 'love-juggs' left without any further attempted contact, which suited me just fine. She had already scarred both of my retinas and my mind. I won't be a bit surprised if I find that I have developed a whopping case of post traumatic stress disorder as a result.. I'm absolutely sure that she will be the subject of a whole series of recurring nightmares where I wake up in a cold sweat thrilled to be alive...

I came home and sat quietly with my wife, who, by the way has a magnificent and beautiful set of jubblies, so this was a balm to my poor damaged eyesockets... to just sit and enjoy the sight of her...

We went to bed, and throughout the night I was beset by wave after wave of nausea, which passed, finally, only to be followed by first fever, replete with soaking sweats... and then chills, in which I did my best at trying to shiver myself to death. By the time the alarm went off, I was wiped out. I called work and told them that I wouldn't be in, that I was taking a sick day. The reply? "You too?!" So. Apparently, there is something going around.

I spent the first part of the day sleeping, then I crawled out of bed, feeling like pond slime, and made some coffee, which I enjoyed immensely, and which put some heart back in me. I sat and watched the world through the window for a while, getting a kick out of the fat little squirrels as they gnawed away at the remains of our Halloween pumpkins that were left out there for them... Jays and other birds came and went, and the leaves fell... It was a very dreary overcast day... a perfect day for a sick day... I read and listened to music, and blessedly did nothing at all which is what I most needed, I think...

The cats must know that I'm not feeling well, because they both breeze by now and again to check on me, nuzzle my face, or curl up beside me for a spell before moving on to attend to whatever urgent cat business they have...

I'm feeling much better now... and plan on being back at work bright and early tommorrow morning... but today was priceless. I needed the rest, and I needed the space. Apparently, if I don't take the time to recharge my batteries from time to time, my body will find a way to do it for me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Somewhat Disturbing Development

Somewhere along the way, recently, it seems that my co-workers and a number of our regular customers have somehow developed the idea that my HEAD is a good luck charm.

Every time they walk by me, they reach out and either rub my head, outright... or they simply give it a little touch, as if they are warding off demons or otherwise averting evil and thwarting hexes that have been directed at them in so doing.

To say that I am perplexed by this is a bit of an understatement.

My head is not particularly gifted in the way of granting wishes or bestowing luck (either good or bad) (... unless you count that one time when I had that really fucked up idea...), nor does it have (I hope!) much of a resemblance to Hotei's or Buddha's Belly.

I don't really get the whole 'Rub Bear's Head' thing... first it was total strangers in stores, libraries, and on the street, and now it seems to have become some obscene , macabre, bizarre fad.

Some folks give it the gentlest of rubs, while others seem to be trying to start a fire. I think some may be attempting to get a nice spit-shine going, actually...

I think I have a fairly nice head... it isn't mishapen or particularly disagreeable. No huge bumps, scars, or dents. No noticeable skin conditions or infestations. So, I suppose from that standpoint it is somewhat understandable that folks might want to rub it.

I just couldn't imagine walking up to someone that I either don't know at all, or know rather superficially and just rubbing their heads.

Perhaps I can balance a bowl of water on my head and see if they will start tossing coins in. It would be an easy way to make a few extra bucks, at least.

I have considered disabusing these folks of their ideas regarding my head. But, I have come to feel that it would be inhumane and cruel to take this obviously enjoyable and overall harmless pastime away from them. I have a responsibility to the public, it would seem, as a veritable shrine of good luck and karmic benevolence, the seat of which, I gather, is the back of my skull.

Funny that I never noticed it before...

I guess I should be glad they aren't sticking gum to my head or spray painting it with grafitti.

I could be worse. They might have decided to use my head as a voodoo doll...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Imagine a World...

I had a thought swimming around in my head today; Imagine what the world would be like if nobody wanted or tried to exert power over anybody else, or over any other living thing...

... Imagine that.

I Don't Really Know What to Say...

This is to all of you who have commented on my last post - 'On Being a Piper...'

I was caught a little off-guard by the number of comments, and by the exceedingly nice things that all of you said to me.

I don't really know what to say.

I'm not really all that good of a person. Not really. Vocation and circumstances have forced me to do many not-so-nice things, as well. I like to tell the stories where it all works out and everyone goes home happy. Or the ones that are funny. I usually stay away from the ones where somebody didn't know when to stop doing whatever they were doing, or where they refused to allow the situation to go anywhere but south...such as the sod that ran full-tilt at my wife on Seventh Avenue in front of Penn Station a few years ago, wild look on his face and arms outstretched towards her (he never touched her.. so, no worries there). So perhaps I have portrayed a skewed portrait of myself. Sometimes Bear has teeth and claws.. and, honestly, that's not really so nice. I'm glad that many of you seem to think that I am, even though I don't think it is all that true. It makes me happy to hear so many of you say so, though...

I just thought it would be honest and fair to you to let you know that the pendulum swings both ways. I'm no pillar of virtue, and I'm certainly no angel. I never, ever go around picking on folks or starting crap with anyone, but, I have my moments, I suppose...

I just wanted to put that out on the table. Since the title of my blog has the phrase 'raw honesty' in it, its only fair.

To my fellow pipers; If you have any strange or interesting gig stories, I would like to hear them! I have a few more, too.

To all of you... thanks again. I really like this blogging community. You guys are great!


Sunday, November 06, 2005

On Being a Piper...

A number of years ago, I received a telephone call from an elderly woman who told me at the outset of the conversation that she lived in Florida.

"I called so-and-so to ask him if he could play the bagpipes at my brother's funeral, but he couldn't do it on that day. He gave me your number and told me to call you. He thought that you might be able to do it..", she began.

"I imagine there must be pipers in Florida who would be more conveniently located, ma'am..."

"No, no... I need a piper in New York. My brother lived up there. He died yesterday, and he had always loved bagpipes and had mentioned that he wanted a piper to play at his funeral. I'll pay you...??"

I asked her where and when the funeral would be, checked my calendar, and confirmed that I had nothing planned on the date (the following Saturday, this being a Thursday...) that would conflict or otherwise prevent me from being able to do the job. The cemetery was less than five miles from my house, so, clearly, I was probably the man for the job.

"Who should I contact before the funeral, ma'am?? Will you be flying up here??"

"Oh, no... I'm disabled. I'm not able to travel. I'm afraid that all of our other family has passed on. I'm the last. Nobody will be attending, I fear..."

I was silent for a few awkward moments while my brain contended with this new tidbit of information. Then..

"I'll be happy to play at your brother's funeral, ma'am. Can you tell me his name, the exact time, and whatever else I will need to know?? Did he like any particular tunes??"

She told me the time of the funeral, and the plot number. For some reason, there wasn't going to be a priest or anyone there to see this guy off... I don't know what the story was... but it struck me as being somewhat strange... and very, very sad.

"Can I have your mailing address, young man? I'd like to send you something in payment on my brother's behalf."

"Um.. ma'am.. you don't have to send anything. Its no trouble. I'll play for your brother. No charge. I'm happy to do it. Don't worry about it."

"Oh.. well, that's very nice. But, could I have your address, just the same.. I'd like to send you a thank you card then."

I gave her my mailing address, and after assuring her that I would be there, on time, and that I would play a few tunes and do the best job that I was capable of doing, hung up the phone.

The day of the funeral was grey, with a fine misty drizzle falling. I donned my kilt and drove to the cemetery. After checking in at the main office, and getting directions to the gravesite, I drove over to the area, parked, and tuned up my bagpipes. After locking up the car, I walked over towards the grave.

The casket was already on the lowering belts. There was astro-turf laid down around the grave, which contrasted rather starkly with the reddish-brown dirt that had been so recently dug up to make room for the new addition.. Three hispanic workers were the only other people there. They were sitting on a berm that had been formed by the dirt that they had excavated when digging the grave. There was one small flower arrangement, looking somewhat droopy as a result of the falling rain, I suppose, which was odd, considering that they were flowers and should have liked the bloody rain... Someone had carelessly kicked dirt onto them, and they looked kind of straggly.

The three workers had, apparently, just finished eating their lunch; there were some wrappers and crap piled at the base of the berm between the feet of one of the men, as well as two empty bottles of some sort of malt drink made by Goya. The third bottle was in the hand of one of the workers, and he took a long pull from the bottle, finishing it, and placed it on the ground with the others. The three of them had never seen anyone in Highland attire, I gather, by the way they looked at me. The hint of a smirk on each of their faces. They sat there, looking at me, somewhat bemused by the whole thing, and I stood there, looking down at the casket.

"I'm here to play for him. Should I begin now??", I asked them.. not sure of whether I should get right to it, or what to do...

"No comprendo... no Ingles."

"Is anybody else supposed to be coming, do you know??"

They discussed this between themselves for a moment, then.. having determined that not a one of them had the slightest clue what I was on about, shook their heads and shrugged.

I considered that, then, feeling that there was no time like the present, filled the bag with breath, struck in the drones, and began to play.

As I played, the three of them stared at me with unmasked astonishment.. whether at the sound of the pipes, the sight of me, a combination of both, or at something else entirely, I have no idea...

After a few moments, one of the men murmered something to the other two, and they all stood up, dusted the worst of the dirt from themselves, and one of them quickly produced a plastic garbage bag from a pocket and deposited the trash into it, bottles and all. (I was unaccountably relieved by this, having been somewhat bothered by the thought that they might have tossed that stuff into the grave with our man when filling it in.) He twisted the neck of the bag, tied a quick knot to close the bag, and, still holding the bag, assumed an appropriately solemn position for a gravesite; feet together, hands folded in front, heads slightly bowed. The other two followed suit. The first guy gave his companions a quick once over, reached up and removed his co-workers hat and handed it to him, then, satisfied with the result, re-assumed his earlier position.

The three of them stood there, respectfully and quietly. Our host lay in his casket, silent and unmoving, waiting to be interred in his grave for the remainder of time.. I could feel him there, though, listening and watching, and I played my bagpipes for him. I never knew him in life, and I didn't have to to know that this was important to him. So I played for all that I was worth. Usually the pipes are played at a funeral to stir the emotions of the living, to force them to cry or to otherwise emote, so that they can get back to the business of living without carrying more than their share of grief and sadness. But this was different. This wasn't for the living. I was playing for the dead.

After a few moments, the apparent leader of the group of workers stepped forward, and, with the toe of his boot, depressed the catch on the belt winch, and the casket began to slowly descend into the earth.

The rain fell on all of us in equal measure, plastering hair to faces, chilling us, and dampening our spirits. It was a perfect day for a funeral.

I finished the set, started another and nodding farewell to the three other living gentlemen, I turned and slowly walked away towards my vehicle, negotiating a path between the headstones as I played.


Over the years, when I have told this story to others, I would sometimes be asked a very odd question; "Why did you go? You could have just stayed home and nobody would have been the wiser!"

Honestly, it never once crossed my mind to not go. It seems to me that a final request is just something that one honors. It is something that we do for one another. You don't just not go. It isn't done. Period.

A couple of days after the funeral, the mailman delivered an envelope with a thank you card, unsigned, containing two crisp new $100 bills. There was no return address.

I went to the florist and bought a two hundred dollar flower arrangement and drove back to the cemetery, where I placed it in on the man's grave. There were no workers present that time, and the day was bright and sunny and beautiful. Birds were singing, and clouds were floating past overhead. It occurred to me that this man would never enjoy another day like this, at least not in this life. I'm not completely clear in my mind whether I put those flowers on his grave for him, or for me... whichever it is, I still feel that it needed to be done for some reason...

I have never told this part of the story to anyone before now. Only he and I ever knew... and now you know, too.