Sunday, December 31, 2006

So, Did'ja Hear?!

While I was at work, one of the other members of the staff was working nearby and, apparently bursting with this bit of info, asked, "Hey! Did'ja hear they hanged Saddam Hussein!! Good Riddance, huh!"

Now, I am no great fan of Saddam Hussein... or at least of the Saddam Hussein that I have constructed in my mind, made up of all the bits and pieces and tidbits of data that I somehow accumulated about him over the past few years.

Come to think of it, there isn't really all that much that I know about him that is honest, first-hand information at all.

Almost everything I know (or think I know) about him is second-hand... whatever I have happened to hear or read in the news.

I let the news of his execution roll around in my mind for a few moments, and, surprisingly... or, perhaps not so surprisingly... I found that I took no great joy in the news that he was led to a gallows, had a rope fastened around his neck, and dropped from a height great enough to break his neck and kill him. If I allow myself to empathize to the point of imagining what it must have felt like being him in those last desperate moments, I find that the thoughts and feelings are very disturbing to me.

Naturally, when I voiced my thoughts in answer to my co-workers question; that I wasn't really happy to hear that he (Saddam Hussein) had been killed, everyone within earshot was incredulous. Perhaps some were outraged. How could I defend a tyrant who was so brutal and vicious??!

Well... I went on to explain that it isn't the death of a tyrant that saddens me. This was a matter of justice, and I would not be so arrogant as to countermand or question the wheels of justice. It isn't my place. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced. It is my assumption that there was more than enough evidence to prove his guilt. His end, therefore, was rightly deserved.

But this isn't what saddens me.

What I find disturbing is that some time ago, a baby was born... a fat, wriggling infant with the entire world set out before it, and an entire lifetime to experience whatever came its way. This child was apparently in a position to become the leader of a country... a country that has one of the oldest civilizations in history.

Here was a man who was in a position to do great works. He could have been a kind and just leader, much loved by his people. There was so much suffering and need in that part of the world that one would think he had his work plainly cut out for him.

Instead, he allowed a dark wind to blow through his soul at some point in his life, and rather than use his position of leadership to help his people, and improve their lot, he instead focused on grasping, taking, accumulating wealth and power. Instead of taking joy in the simple things such as the love of his wife (wives?), children, and friends... he took what they had, took their lives... destroyed their livlihoods... tortured, maimed, and injured.

Rather than realizing that he was capable of exercising love, compassion and kindness as the leader of his country, he instead attempted to take everything that existed within the realm of his knowledge.... even the poor miserable lives of the lowliest of his subjects - and in so doing he made their lot even more difficult and burdensome than it ever needed be.

So. A lifetime that could have been instrumental in the improvement of the lives of so many people, a lifetime that could have brought joy, happiness, prosperity, and kindness was instead wasted and ended abruptly with the snap of a rope.

All that is left is a country in ruins, countless shattered lives, and who knows how many years of painstaking work simply to get back to where they all were years ago.

The breaking of Saddam Hussein's neck ended a life, but I seriously doubt that it changed anything; other than taking him out of this world that he so grievously injured, and so apparently despised.

I am not saddened at that fact that justice was executed upon him for his acts of oppression and murder.

I am saddened that that infant, who had such an opportunity to do so very much good in the world let it all go to waste.

Even Saddam Hussein was a child of god. His life was still a life. I guess it is my thought that killing him simply adds one more sad, hopeless, wasted life to the great pile of sad, hopeless, wasted lives that he wrought through his acts of cruelty.

It just strikes me as being kind of sad, I guess.

When I had stopped speaking, I could see that I must have caused many of the folks listening to confront a number of issues that had never occurred to them before this.. I don't think that they had ever stopped to think of Mr. Hussein as a person - an honest-to-god, flesh and blood, real life human being who had actually had all of the power and influence that he had had, and who had chosen to do what he had done rather than do good things. I am sure than many also must have wondered, as I have, whether any of us would have done better, or whether that dark wind would have blown through our souls, as it had, apparently, through his... and perhaps whether we would have done the same, or worse.

Some of the folks who had been listening to me when I was speaking later told me that they were bothered by the thought of all of the pain that he had caused, and that this hanging did nothing to ameliorate that suffering, or to change anything about it....

We were all disturbed by the fact that he had never apparently shown the slightest bit of remorse for his actions.

One by one, they each approached me throughout the night and said that they thought that what I had said made a great deal of sense. Some mentioned that even in smaller, less influential and powerful lives, such as our own... that same dark wind can cause some of us to do things that perhaps we would not otherwise do...

I wonder if any of us will be able to learn anything useful from the mistakes of Mr. Hussein, and perhaps avoid the same pitfalls that entrapped him and led him to such a terrible end to what could have been such an illustrious life??

I don't think that most will even give it a second thought. But, I know that he is most likely no better and no worse than I am. He was once a baby, just like I was, and at the height of his power, he was just a man, like I am. He was just a man with more stuff, and that somehow endowed him in the eyes of those around him with the power of life and death over others. In taking those lives, he gave away his own.

That is the inescapable fact of the universe. Balance is sought and achieved througout the universe... its the way things work. And when we take an action, we set a course of events in motion that also changes us in some way and that takes its toll on us for ill or for good.

What I wonder is whether Saddam Hussein knew he was doing wrong or whether he somehow convinced himself that his actions were justified. If so, then I am just as guilty as he is at some level, because, in retrospect, this is a mistake that I, too, have often made.

Is it any different for any one of us?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Got a Second?

My bones chill and my skin crawls at hearing these simple words; "Got a Second?"


Because, in my experience, they are generally followed by some comment, information, or news that either:

  1. Entirely craps-up my day.

  2. Generally pisses me off.

  3. Is designed to make me feel unworthy of living and breathing.

  4. Communicates to me that I am in trouble, fired, or no longer involved in a personal relationship... or, that I either owe money I didn't expect to owe, or will not be receiveing money that I am expecting to recieve.

  5. Utterly cramps my style and screws up my plans.

  6. Changes my life and/or lifestyle in a deleterious manner.

  7. Indicates that the agreement that we have previously arrived at is now null and void, and that there isn't a damned thing I can do about it.

Today, after hearing the dreaded "Got a second?", I was told that it was no longer financially feasible to continue to fill my position. So, as of that moment, I was out of a job. As a consolation prize, they agreed to pay for half of the day tomorrow, and in return I don't have to get up, get dressed, and go in to the office.

Yay. Wow.

I have tried to convey to various individuals over the years that in fact I DO NOT have a second... but, alas, this has not helped my case a bit. They always barge on ahead with their crappy news... and, as it turns out, I have a second, whether I want to or not.

Being asked if I 'Have a second?' is nearly as bad as being told that somebody has put something that is vitally important 'in a safe place'.

Back to the drawing board, I suppose....

Next time somebody asks me if I 'have a second' they very well may just get knocked out.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The One that Got Away

Sure enough, the bait and switch tactic had to come to a head sooner or later… they always do. I was told that I was going out on the road ‘for training’ last Thursday and Friday. I dutifully went out with one of the drivers in order to learn the ‘hands on’ stuff that all of the drivers are required to know. I wasn’t thrilled, but I figured that it made good sense to have everybody trained equally so that in the event of an emergency, they could always handle the work load.

One small detail that sort of ran around in my mind was that neither the dispatcher nor the other office gal were licensed or trained, nor were they planning to be. I also spoke with the vehicle mechanic, who is licensed to drive anything on the road… and, as it turns out, he is not trained, nor is he planning to be trained to be a stand-in driver. The question that springs to my mind is this: if we are all purportedly being trained to be stand-in drivers… why aren’t we all being trained? For some reason, this sort of bothered me… but I didn’t voice it or indicate it in any way.

On the day that I was told I had to go on the road, I was told the day of the training, and had no prior warning whatsoever… I had an idea that I would be doing this at some undetermined time in the future, but this was as far as it went. As it turned out, I was scheduled to work another job directly after I left work that day, and it wasn’t a situation where arriving late was at all acceptable. The start time was the start time, and, even on time we are time-pressured and have to really move our asses to keep up so that everything will be ready at the start time of the event… in this case, a holiday party.

Well… 20 minutes prior to the end of my scheduled workday, the dispatcher was trying to assign another run to the driver who was assigned to train me… I told him that I was scheduled to work elsewhere, and that no matter what, I had to be back at the office by 3:30PM, come what may. I explained that I had not been given the courtesy of advance notice, and that I didn’t think that it was fair to expect me to stay late without at least asking me if it would be an inconvenience. They are aware that I must work part-time elsewhere to make ends meet.

The driver told the dispatcher that he couldn’t accept the run due to the fact that he had to get me back to the office so that I could make it to my second job on time. He also reminded her that we had not been given a lunch break during the entire day. She grudgingly allowed him to return me to the office, but, when we returned, I could tell that she was royally pissed off.

The next day was a repeat of the same thing, and I got back 20 minutes late, which threw my schedule off entirely. I called her from home later on in the evening, and explained that this could not continue along these lines. That I was committed to work at the time that I had agreed… at least until the week ended (I commit to a different schedule each week.. depending upon what they need, and what schedule I am able to accept.. but, once I commit I cannot back out. If you do this, you don’t get any more work!!), and that being late affected my credibility, and thus negatively affected my finances. Unacceptable! She was very annoyed and clipped with me on the telephone, and said that I would have to speak with the owner about it. She wanted to be able to schedule me to work at her convenience, and didn’t want to hear it from me.

I thought about this… and decided to simply wait and discuss it with the boss the next day.

The next working day, which was this past Monday, a woman showed up at the office to begin training as the administrative specialist. I was asked to clear my stuff from the desk so that she would have a place to work.

I was called in to the office, and the boss made it clear in no uncertain terms that I was no longer to be carried as an admin specialist, and that instead, I was to be assigned as a full-time driver. I was also informed that the schedule that we had originally agreed to was no longer acceptable to the company (7AM to 3:30PM) and that I would be required to work from 7AM until at least 5:30PM and possibly as late as 9PM when the situation required. He also expressed dissatisfaction with my refusal to work, or at least to be available, on weekends. He said that this would have to change, that I would eventually have to make myself available at any time that the company needed me to work.

I sat quietly and listened to all of this, and at the end I simply told him that it was a lot of information to process, and that I would have to give it all some serious thought. I said that I didn’t really want to respond in any way, since I had had no time to organize my thoughts or prepare any sort of sensible response. He agreed that this was wise and that is how we left it.

I went to work as usual on Tuesday morning, and when the dispatcher came in, she told me to try on a uniform jacket (drivers wear them), gave me a Nextel radio, and told me that I had to leave it on at all times, even when I was at home, so that they would be able to call me in whenever they needed somebody, and then handed me a huge packet of paperwork to fill out. This was all forms that had to be turned into the state department of motor vehicles. She told me that I had to fill it out immediately, that it was ‘Top Priority’ and that there was nothing that I had to do that was more important. She wanted to ‘get me out on the road’ as soon as possible.

I took the paperwork to another room and sat down, dejectedly, and began to fill it all out. As I was doing this, it occurred to me that I didn’t at all want to do this. I didn’t hire on as a driver. I was not really given an option. And above all, it didn’t strike me as being either courteous or fair to push me into this situation without so much as a ‘beggin’ your pardon’.

Well… I more or less decided on the spot that in fact I wasn’t going to do it, and that the best course of action that I could take would be to go and inform the boss and nip this whole thing in the bud. There was really no point in continuing any further. It was bullshit, and I figured that being frank and honest, and calling a spade a spade was the smartest course of action.

I figured that this would mean that I would be unemployed at a difficult time of year to find work, but, I also figured that the longer I continued along this path, the harder it would be.

So, I walked over to the boss, who was in a conversation with the dispatcher, and I politely waited at a distance until he took notice, which, honestly, wasn’t all that long..

I asked him if he had a moment, that I had something to discuss with him. He asked me what was on my mind, and I asked whether we could discuss it in privacy in his office. He raised his eyebrows for a second, but agreed, and in we went. I basically told him that I didn’t want to be a driver, that it wasn’t the job that I had applied for and accepted, that one of the main draws of the job was the schedule that we had agreed upon, and that he had never once been able to articulate a single substandard thing regarding my work performance. I told him that I felt I was being treated unfairly, and that I had kept to my word in everything that we had agreed upon. I also said that I had been doing a fantastic job for him, and that I knew that he knew it. I told him that as of that moment, I was not driving any more, and that I was aware that it most likely meant that I was out of a job, but that this was my decision and that I was sticking to it. I told him that I had perceived him as being a pious and honorable man, and that I was mostly upset that my perception and judgement had been wrong on that account, and that I was sorely disappointed. I told him that I would stay on doing office work until the new person was sufficiently trained, or until he found a replacement if that was what he needed, but that it would more convenient to me if I could simply leave after the meeting and move on with searching for a full-time position elsewhere.

He sat and listened to what I said, and then said, “I had hoped that you would like the driver position, and that it would work out.”. I repeated that I understood that I would be out of a job, but if that was how it was going to be, then that was how it was going to be.

He said, “We have to decide what do now. I can’t afford to have two people working full-time in the office, but, at the moment, you are essentially covering the office from 7AM until 9AM, after which I had hoped to put you out on the road to cover the runs that need to be covered. Since that didn’t work out, I can double those hours, and have you cover from 7AM until 11AM. This would give you time to look for employment elsewhere and go on interviews, and still give you at least a partial paycheck until you find something. If you find some part-time work in the afternoons, and want to continue working here on that schedule, we can do it permanently, but if you find something full-time, I just ask that you keep me informed so that I can make arrangements to fill the position.”

This seemed to me to be a fair arrangement, given the circumstances…. not optimal, but fair. Apparently, the other person in the office, the dispatcher, has a problem with a male filling the position. She wants a female in there… and I suppose she was chipping away at him the entire time. He tried to put lipstick on a pig and put a good face on it by offering me a position driving. It didn’t work out, but I understand his way of thinking.

I am glad that it turned out not to be a planned out ‘bait and switch’ scam after all. I like him, and I don’t want to think that he is a shit. So, that is my situation now… I have work, at least part-time… and I am free to find something else without the pressure of no income whatsoever. I now have a fairly low-level commercial driver’s license, as well as a valid learner’s permit for a higher level commercial driver’s license. This can’t really hurt… and it didn’t cost me a dime! (They are fairly expensive… and the company footed the bill… plus I got a free physical, so, it all worked out sort of well in the end.)

The job didn’t really pay well from the start, and I more or less took it with the caveat that I would try to find something that paid a better salary in any case.

So now I have the freedom to schedule interviews, and to have some time to search around until I find something that I am better suited for, and, hopefully, that will pay a great deal more as well.

So, that's my story... I managed to narrowly escape a crappy situation, somehow worked out an acceptable interim circumstance, and now, once again, have my work cut out for me.. I need to find work. I suppose I had best get to it, then... Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Red Smoke, Green Parrot & Donall

Yesterday, my wife and I were out running some errands. We were both fairly hungry, and prior to going out, Marcheline had asked me where we should go to eat.

I suggested a place that I had heard about called "Red Smoke"

Now, there's a small back-story to this.. I had first heard about this place back in July or August and had suggested going there. My wife immediately allowed that it sounded great, and agreed that we should go 'sometime'.

Over the ensuing months, whenever some occasion popped up where I was asked to suggest a place where we might go and eat, I would dutifully say, "Hey! Why don't we go and try that 'Red Smoke' place?", and my wife would reply, "Well... I want to try it, but, I don't want to go 'dressed like this'."

(What'the!?! - we go to all sorts of places 'dressed like this' ... what's the deal??) - but... I wouldn't make an issue out of it. I figured she just didn't feel like going there, and left it that... although, it was weird, because my wife generally says precisely what she thinks and/or feels, doesn't very often beat around the bush, and certainly never comes up with weird cheesy cop-out excuses for not doing something; she just says, "I don't want to do that" and that's that. But, there's a first time for everything, I figured, so I let it be.

So.. back to yesterday, I suggested "Red Smoke", and she readily agreed!! (This took place at the house, before we left.) Over the next hour or two, while we were out and about, she would ask me again and again where I thought we should eat, I would reply, "I thought we were going to 'Red Smoke'?", and she would mumble something like, "Oh, yeah... that's right...". Soon, the question began being, "Where is this Red Smoke place, again?", or, "How far away is this place?".

I was getting a vibe that she wanted to worm out of the whole 'Red Smoke' thing and go someplace else that was either: a). Closer, or: b). More familiar. In any case, I was definitely getting a sense that 'Red Smoke' was simply out of the question. She had been resisting going to this place pretty much every time I brought it up, and she was resisting it now... and it just didn't seem cool to force her to try something that she didn't want to try (But she wants to try EVERYTHING - so what was the deal??!!)

I finally said, "Forget it. Let's just go someplace else. It is fairly clear that you just don't want to go there... so you suggest someplace. I made my suggestion. Now its your turn."

She mulled it over for a while, then, apparently coming to a decision, she shrugged and said, "Let's go to 'Red Smoke'"

I said, "Now you want to go??!!"

She said, "Yeah.. let's go."

So... we went!

When we pulled up in front of the place, which was a storefront, 'get yer food at the counter and go find a table' 'spit and sawdust' kind of place, she breathed a huge sigh of relief and said, "Ohhhhh.... I thought this place was some kind of new fancy restaurant! I was afraid that I would look like a complete jackass walking in there in jeans!"

I had never even considered that the place was that kind of a restaurant... so I had never even attempted to disabuse her of that notion!...

"So THAT'S why you never wanted to come here 'DRESSED LIKE THIS'!!" I said, turning to her, and cracking up!!

"Yeah! You said 'This new restaurant just opened up, and I thought it was a fancy sit-down restaurant... it never crossed my mind that it was a take-out joint!"

We both got a kick out how badly we had communicated over this issue... for months!!

Man, we weren't even close to speaking the same language!!

We went out to get our Yule Tree today, and on the way there, while sitting at a traffic light, we observed a motor vehicle accident happen right in front of us. It looked like a bad one, a broadside, and at fairly high speed... one of the cars lifted up on two wheels, but at the balancing point it fell back down onto its wheels, bounced a few times, then came to rest after getting blown from the center of the intersection to the curb. Once the smoke cleared and we had a chance to assess what had happened, it turned out that everyone was basically unhurt, so we continued on our way; but it gave us a good start. Why don't people learn to drive more carefully during such times?? Instead, they seem to drive like lunatics, and people get needlessly hurt and killed. Grrrr!

We name our trees each year, and this year's tree is named 'Donall'. He is a braw beautiful tree, and we will be happily decorating him tommorrow night (Monday).

Donall Being Escorted into Thistlebright Cottage by One Happy Bear!!

When we got home, we were unloading the vehicle and carrying stuff into the cottage and all the while we both kept hearing a really strange bird cry. We had both heard the same call numerous times over the past months, but could never identify the creator of the sound; until today! We both stopped and began visually searching the trees for the source of the call, and finally Marcheline spotted this guy sitting on one of the branches of a tree in our backyard;

He has apparently run away from home, has woken up from a drunken binge, and now seems to think that he is a mourning dove. He was following a flock of them from tree to tree, squawking and screeching and squalling at them.

The doves were unavailable for comment as of presstime.

I'm worried about the wee bugger. Its getting cold out, and I'm not sure that he's very well equipped to survive.

Neither of us are very sure of what we can do, though... particularly since he was last seen heading southeast at 40 knots at an altitude of 185 feet.

Bait & Switch, or Necessity?? Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure!

So. When we last tuned in, Bear had found a job as an Admin Assistant at a local Ambulette company, where he was getting settled in, and becoming reasonably happy...


As it turns out, the winds of change are incessant in this part of the world, and of late, I have been getting pressured to obtain a CDL license so that I could serve as a 'stand-in' driver whenever such services are needed. When this was first brought up, I explained that I didn't really much care for the idea, but that I would be willing to do it in exceptional circumstances.

I dutifully went and took the test for the license, passed, and now have a nominal CDL (Commercial Driver's License) Class C license that allows me to operate a commercial vehicle with fewer than 7 passengers. I also have a valid Class B Learner's Permit, and can schedule the Skills/Road Test whenever I feel that I am prepared to do so.. (I am *woefully* unprepared as of this writing...).

A CDL is probably not such a bad thing to have, in the grand scheme... HOWever...

I was hired as an Admin Assistant... and this is what I want to do... In conversations with a number of the other drivers, I have since learned that a great number of them were hired as Office workers, admin assistants, and other various and sundry positions, only to be slowly shang-hai'ed into accepting ambulette driver positions.

I am starting to feel as though I have been played. I don't like bait & switch games. I don't like being manipulated. I don't like being decieved. I just don't like it very much at all....

The thing is, the owner of the company still strikes me as an honest guy, with a good heart. It is my thought that he hired me on the up and up, and that everything was done on the level, but that he is under incredible pressure to put enough drivers on the road to keep the company viable. In fact, a couple of days ago, he put on his jacket and went out on the road to do a few runs himself. He isn't asking anything of me that he won't do as well, and you can't ask much more of a leader.

The thing is, I just don't want to do it. I also don't want to leave him in a lurch.

He mentioned that the drivers get paid even less than I do, which, honestly, isn't really very much. I certainly hope that he doesn't plan on paying me at the lower rate whenever he has me doing any sort of driving stuff... because that ain't workin' AT ALL!!

I haven't done any driving yet, because I haven't been trained, but he plans on putting me out on the road this coming week with one of the experienced drivers. Once I spend a full day in training, I am fair game.

I have a feeling that I will be finding myself more and more behind the wheel, and less and less behind a desk.

I told him that I would give it a fair go... and I plan on doing that. But, I don't think I am going to like it very much at all.. which, I suppose, isn't really approaching it with all due fairness.. but, there it is.

It is looking, folks, like I am going to be searching for another job soon...

At least I have a steady income while I do so, which is more than many folks can say, so I am fortunate.

I just wish I could be hired for a job, do the job, and have that be enough one of these times...


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hold the Presses!

I was scheduled to tend bar at a party this evening. It may have been a wedding, an engagement party, a surprise 60th birthday party, or perhaps a bar/bat mitvah or anniversary soire. I don't know what it was supposed to be, but I didn't go.

I was out and about with my wife today, running errands and generally enjoying the time with her, when I received a page from my boss. When I called him, he said that the party had been cancelled, due to a death in the family.

I don't know what kind of party it was going to be, but my heart goes out to the family who had been all set for a night of fun and celebration, and who, instead, are now grieving.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind is a picture of a young bride-to-be, sitting and sobbing into her wedding dress because her mom or dad passed away...

I cannot change this situation... I can only accept it, and deal with it.

But it makes me feel sad. I accept that death is a part of the plan. I accept that there is nothing that we can do about it. I have no choice.

I send my prayers out to these people who I do not know, who now have this difficult burden of grief to bear, instead of the fun time that they had all been anticipating.

For the rest of us, I suppose we can accept this event as a reminder that life is short, and that our time together here is limited, and that we have *absolutely* no say regarding when we will meet our end... so, perhaps will appreciate one another, our time together, and the beauty of this precise moment.

Whoever you are that just left this place; go in harmony, may you have very few regrets as go. I wish you swift travels, and may you rest in peace. I would have done a good job for you tonight... I promise. I am sorry that we couldn't have met.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Remembrances...

Every year, when I was a kid, I wanted to watch two things that were shown on network television every bloody Thanksgiving; (Network television because there wasn't anything else! You watched what was showing... or nothing! Period!)

Every year they would show Laurel & Hardy in "March of the Wooden Soldiers" and they would show "King Kong".

As of this day, I have never, ever gotten to see either of the movies in their entirety on Thanksgiving.

For some reason my grandfather, who loved me dearly, and who generally went out of his way to see that I got things that I wanted, in this one instance was in opposition to me, and I'm not really sure why.

He and my grandmother were both drinkers, and Thanksgiving Day was essentially a day to get, well... Shitfaced!

I'm sure that being three sheets to the wind by 10AM most likely had something to do with it... but I can't really be sure.

The reason that I would want to watch these movies, in addition to wanting to see them because I just liked them, is that the kids at school would all start talking about what they traditionally watched on Thanksgiving at their houses, and the talk would build up and build up until we broke out of school on the day before Thanksgiving, and then I would have to hear all of them discussing the finer points of the movies throughout the following week back at school, without the benefit of having actually seen the movies in question... (well... I had seen "King Kong", but it helped to have everything fresh in your mind if you wanted to sound like you had a clue at all!)

I would usually start out by asking whether I could watch my shows a few days (read weeks) before Thanksgiving... to which I would either be told "sure!", or, "we'll see" depending upon the mood and identity of whoever I happened to be asking..

When the actual Day came along, it generally went something like this;

I would get my pillow, park my skinny ass in front of the TV and flip through the channels until I found whatever channel the first movie (March of the Wooden Soldiers) was on, and I would sit through 20 minutes of whatever hideous and miserable show that was on before it... The commercial would come on, and then, finally the music and credits for the actual movie would appear. Three minutes into the movie, my grandfather would haul himself out of his chair, walk over to the TV, switch the channel to something else, and say, "Alright mac, that's enough... time for me to watch something, now..." or, more to the point, "You aren't watching this crap. It's my house. When you grow up and get your own house, and your own TV, you can watch what you want."

Naturally, I would raise holy shittin' hell over this, feeling that I was being treated unfairly, and becoming indignant over the outrage. The arguing and screaming would commence, and sooner or later my mom would slap the living crap out of me for being 'fresh' to my grandfather... then I would be 'fresh' to her, too... out of sheer indignance, audacity, and pig-headed stubbornness (which, admittedly, I have way too much of..)

There would generally be a contest of switching the channel back and forth until I was threatened with something sufficiently inconvenient to prevent me from daring to touch the TV again, whereupon I would go in search of the big guns; Nana!!!

She would be half in the bag by now, too, and every indignity and injustice that she had ever suffered or that she perceived that she had suffered at the hands of my grandfather would, I'm sure, surge right to the surface, and she would wade in... all barrels blazing!!

"JOE! Why can't the poor kid watch his shows?? You're like a dog in a manger! You haven't even glanced at the TV the entire day, and you know that he was waiting to watch his movies, and now you have to decide that you want to change the channel??"

My grandfather was not one to cave in just like that... he once returned to the bar that he owned to find that some guys with broken noses and pinky rings had installed a juke box without having discussed it with him. He called the owner of the jukebox company, which was printed on a sticker right on the jukebox, and told him that since they didn't show him the respect of asking him first whether he wanted a jukebox in his bar, to come and take it out of there immediately.

The gent on the other end of the phone told him that the jukebox was staying, or that he (my Pop) would be cleaning his brains off of the bar.

My grandfather wasn't dissuaded by this and told the man that if the jukebox wasn't out of his bar in 30 minutes, that he was going to throw it into the middle of Richmond Avenue, which was the main thouroghfare in Staten Island where my grandfather's tavern was located.

The man on the other end of the phone said, "The jukebox STAYS!! Touch it, and you're a DEAD MAN!"

After 30 minutes, my grandfather picked up the jukebox, carried outside, singlehandedly (He was a very large man), and threw it into the middle of Richmond Avenue, smashing it into a million pieces...!!

When the Gangster Boss showed up at the Bar to confront my grandfather about the incident, my grandfather explained that had he been shown the slightest bit of respect, that he would have happily allowed the jukebox to stay... as a matter of fact, he had been thinking of calling that very company to ask for one!

The Mob Boss was incredulous at this, and asked why my grandfather had done this, hadn't he known that he would be dead?? My grandfather replied that he knew that most likely this was the case, but that right was right and that was that.

He offered the Mob boss, whose name was Jimmy, a drink. They sat, and they drank, and Jimmy pointed out that it was kind of quiet in the place, and my grandfather asked him if he knew anyplace where a tavern owner might obtain a jukebox, and Jimmy allowed that he might just know of such a person... and, from that day on they were very close friends. Until the day they died, actually.

Needless to say, he didn't back down an inch from my grandmother, who had a certain amount of chutzpah in her own right.. having once driven the family car through the front wall of the Tavern they both owned because my grandfather had 'eighty-sixed' her and had the lads toss her out of the bar and lock the door!!

So... every year, I would want to watch my movies. Every year, Pop would put the kabosh on it, and every year I would go to my grandmother. And every year I would start a great big domestic quarrel.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I think I finally put two and two together, accepted the fact that I wasn't going to ever be allowed to watch those movies on Thanksgiving, and that bringing it up was only going start a huge fight and ruin everyone's Thanksgiving. So I stopped even trying.

I have never to this day watched either of those movies on a Thanksgiving Day, for some odd reason... I suppose if I had them on DVD I probably would... but it never occurs to me to even think about it until the very day... and then its too late.

As a matter of fact, I have never seen the movie "March of the Wooden Soldiers" in its entirety in one sitting, though I have seen bits and bobs of it over the years...

As it turns out, not bringing up the movie thing never once prevented a huge family fight on Thanksgiving... they simply found something else to fight about! It was either my grandfather suddenly surging to his feet and throwing everyone out of his house; including my grandmother (which didn't really go over all that well!), accusing everyone of being freeloaders, no good bums, etc., or my grandmother spilling some secret in front of everyone in the entire family that would instantly infuriate the person who had told her the secret in confidence, AND start some huge shit between that person and whoever the secret happened to be about, who would invariably be right there... otherwise where's the fun in it atall, I suppose, right? OR... my mom would start in on someone, a cousin would make a quip, my aunt or uncle would let my mom or one of my granparents have it, or someone would simply punch somebody else in the face ... and the fight was on!

The table went over, somebody always went ass over teakettle over the coffee table, and my battlestation was to protect the fishtank. (I enjoyed mixed success with this task.... sigh).

One of these days, I am going to watch both of these movies, on Thanksgiving Day, and then I am going to throw everyone out of the house.... and I am going to go with them...

After all, who wants to sit home all alone on Thanksgiving??

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thrilled to be off today, and to be able to spend the entire day with my wife!!

We started the day out slowly, and as I type this, a pot of delicious, festive, flavored coffee is brewing! Once we enjoy our morning coffee and make the requisite 'family-holiday-calls', we will start to liesurely prepare our holiday dinner.

I have been counting the minutes and seconds to our day off together, since we don't see all that much of one another these days due to our crazy work schedules... either she works on any given weekend day, or I do... or we both do.... but it hardly ever works out that neither of us are scheduled to work.

Somewhere along the line, I have managed to catch a creeping crud (probably at work... where everyone is hacking out a lung on a constant basis... ick!)

My head feels like it has been forcefully pumped full of goo. My eyes feel like they are being squeezed, my ear canals are 'scratchy' and I hear everything as though I am listening through stereo wrapping paper tubes. Lastly, I can barely breathe...

Luckily, I get the occasional painful sneeze or coughing bout where I tear an internal organ in order to break up the monotony. Hopefully, it will pass quickly so that I can simply get on with it.

In any case, I don't plan on letting a stupid cold or flu ruin my day off with my girl. I am off to start the day with a nice, hot, steaming cup of coffee, and then I will get started on dinner prep!

Hopefully, my head won't explode at the dinner table...

That would be incredibly inconvenient. Not to mention the difficulty of trying to clean up such a huge mess with no head!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006


Last night we both had to work at our respective 'weekend' jobs. We got up and had our Sunday morning coffee, and then, later on in the day we went trundling off to our favorite Turkish Food restaurant for lunch. We ate, we talked non-stop, each of us sampling the other's food... and then we headed back to the cottage to start getting ready for work..

After work, we cooked up some food and plopped on the couch to watch the rest of "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Crashing Moons!" (This isn't a joke... this movie was *SO* bad that it was actually fantastic!).

Part way through the movie, we simply paused it, and sat and talked and cracked each other up, and laughed until we cried, stomachs and cheeks aching, and throats raw..

I am giggling now thinking about it!..

And, that says more about 'us', in a much more eloquent fashion, I think, than I ever could... so I thought that I would share..

It occurs to me that marrying my wife was one of the few deals in life where the reality is really and truly much, much better than I had ever expected it to be... I had very high expectations... but the reality is just so much better than I ever could have hoped for that all I can do is constantly send silent (or not so silent!) 'Thank You's' to whoever or whatever may have been responsible for my good fortune...

I am so fortunate to have her to love me...



Well.. Monday morning, and I am at work, so I suppose I had better get to it... My boss is a good guy, and I don't want to take advantage...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

From the Monastery Kitchen

Tonight I made some monastery soup, and thought that I would share my recipe with you. I started with a recipe from "A Year of Monastery Soups", but I did quite a bit of my own 'tweaking', so now it is a completely different recipe, with a completely different taste, feel, flavor, and mood. It is an easy enough soup to make, and it is hearty and delicious. Use a big pot, it makes quite a bit! I like to serve this with two loaves of fresh baked bread and some softened butter... sometimes I will make an herb spread, sometimes not.

Potato, Leek, Artichoke Soup with Sausage

8 Red Potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 Small Onions (chopped)
10 Cloves of Garlic (chopped)
1 Leek (rinsed and chopped - make sure you get all the sand out!)
6 Hot Sausages
2 sweet sausages (I get the packs of mixed sweet and hot sausages. I bag and freeze the remaining sweet sausages, they will be used in pasta sauce another day!)
2 14oz Cans Artichoke Hearts (drain well before using)
3 Cans Chicken Broth
1 Can Beef Broth
2 Cups Dry White Wine
4 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Whole Bay Leaves
2 Eggs
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

Loaf of fresh bread and butter.

Cut Sausages up into chunks (I cut them to approximately four pieces per sausage). Pour approximately two tablespoons of olive oil into a dutch oven or frying pan.
Brown sausages. Cut sausages into small pieces (about the size of Milk Duds). Set aside.

Pour approximately seven tablespoons of olive oil into bottom of pan and add onions. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add Leeks. Simmer 5 more minutes, add garlic, simmer for an additional five minutes, then add wine, cover, and simmer over very low heat for about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Transfer to large soup pot (You can make this all in the soup pot… I do not… I suppose I like cleaning lots of pots and mixing bowls or something… ).

Add sausage, potatoes, artichoke hearts, bay leaves, rosemary, coriander (go easy with the rosemary and coriander… they can easily take over your soup! Just a dash is needed) and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Stir thoroughly. Bring soup to a boil for about five minutes, lower heat, salt and pepper to taste, and simmer over very low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Beat two eggs thoroughly with 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Turn heat up to high and bring soup back to a boil. Add egg mixture to soup, and stir thoroughly. Lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately with fresh bread and butter.

It's difficult to describe the taste of this soup, but I think you will enjoy it.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Hello!? McFly?! Are You in There?!

I stopped at Seven-Eleven this morning on my way to work in order to pick up a cup of coffee... I needed it..

I ran into a customer from my last job, (for simplicity, I'll call it NSBS ((Non-Specified Building Supplies, Inc.))((I will call my Current Job 'CJ, Inc.' - Yup! you got it,... C-urrent J-ob. .. I know... I can't help it, It's a birth defect))

So... I run into this guy with his crew as we are walking towards the Seven-Eleven;

John M: "Hey! Haven't seen you over there in a while! Where ya been?"

Me: "Well.. I found a new job. I don't work for NSBS anymore..."

John M: "You don't!? Where ya workin' now?"

Me: "I work for 'CJ' as an Admin Assistant, now.."

John M: "They let you wear that at NSBS these days?" (indicating my suit and tie...)

Me: (??) "Huh? Oh! The suit?! Well, um.... No.. I mean, I don't work there anymore... this is business attire at my new job."

John M: "Oooooh..... So, what'ya, change out of it when you get to NSBS?"

Me: (DO you hear the words what's comin' outta my mouf??!!) I sorta don't actually go to NSBS... because..... I don't actually work there anymore. I left... I got a new job... ... "

John M: "Gee! That's great!! So, I guess we'll see you over there a little later on then, okay?!"

Me: (??? !) ".. ? ... where?'

John M: "NSBS!"

Me: (sigh) "I don't think so..."

John M: "No? Why, you off today for Veteran's day or somethin'? I thought Veteran's Day wasn't till tommorrow..?"

Me: "No... I'm working.... at my new job.."

John M: "So, I guess you'll get tommorrow off then, if you're lucky, huh?!"

Me: "Probably... since I don't have to work on Saturdays anymore AT MY NEW JOB... So, I suppose it's looking pretty good!"

John M: "So listen, can you price out a job for me sometime before lunch? I have to do a proposal for a customer this afternoon on a roof job... I'll call you later with the numbers...."

Me: " see.. I. Don't. Work. There. Anymore. John."

John M: "What? You're not gonna be there? Why don't I give you the numbers now, and you can price it out when you get back, then?? I have everything in the truck..."

Me: (I can't solve this...) "Listen, why don't you just call the numbers in to NSBS, this way they won't get lost. When you go in there later on, it will probably be done... okay?"

John M: "Hey! Great! Thanks, Bear! I guess I'll see you over there in a little while then.... boy, you're gonna be hot working in that suit, huh?!"

Me: "You know.. you're probably right... when I get home, I'm going to change out of it into something cooler..."

John M: "Good Idea! See ya over there!"

Me: "See ya... take care,... nice seeing you, John.."

Why do I have this persistent feeling that I might not be getting through?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Milestone.. and a New Beginning

For the past six years or so, we have been living (and suffering enormously) under a burden that was of such a personal/financial nature that neither of us has ever blogged about it....

As of yesterday, that burden has been lifted, the impediments have been removed, and the obstacles have been negotiated.

After six long years of toil, struggle, and difficulty we have managed to get past what seemed for so long like an absolutely insurmountable problem.

We don't make much money, and, to be honest, we really don't have all that much... but, although this sounds like a whine or complaint; it isn't. What we now *do* have, that many, many others do not, is peace of mind!!

We are now standing on the threshold of a new phase in our lives. We have hope for the future that, until now, we realistically could not have dreamed of...

It may not be the best set of circumstances that anybody could have ever dreamed up, since financially we are still struggling quite a bit, and most likely will be for a good while... but, considering how things have been up until yesterday, I am absolutely thrilled!!

I feel as though a tremendous weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, and I can breathe again!!

Breathing is pretty cool!

I'm happy... now, instead of having to concentrate on busting my tail simply to get to square 1, I can actually look to working for some type of a future for us!!

The important part of this whole post is that we can now move forward without a constant nagging dread all the bloody time.

None of this would have been possible without the constant, unflagging efforts, hard work, and dedication of my wife.... I really don't know where I would be without her.

She is my heart, and my soul, and I am truly the luckiest man alive to be loved by her and to wake up each morning beside her....

Thank you, God.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My Wife Kicks Ass!

Marcheline took a week of vacation from work and built us a gorgeous brick patio! She scrounged free brick, planned the whole thing, and built it from scratch!

I am absolutely amazed!

There couldn't have been a better time, coming as it does right after the loss of the trees....

Bop on over to her blog for pics, and for her take on DIY patio building...

I can already see sunny Sunday mornings, barbeques, and summer afternoons spent on our patio... in my mind, I see pots of flowers, tiki torches, and all sorts of cool stuff all around...

Thank you so much, Marcheline/Elysia... for all of your hard work. I really appreciate everything that you do...

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I'm feeling slightly disjointed and 'out of it' today... muzzy, blurry... something...

I'm not sure if I'm coming down with something (hope not!), or whether I just didn't get a decent night's sleep, or what..

Maybe its the time change, or the climate change, or all of the recent changes ganging up on me... or a combination of everything at once...

In any case, I have to get it together.. I have got to find a part time job to help make ends meet... I feel like I'm chasing my tail, lately..

For today, I would be satisfied to feel as though my head is attached, I think..

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Three Gifts!

Today I received some unexpected gifts... some tangible, and some less so... but, tangible or otherwise, gifts are gifts, and I am thankful for them!

I got up early and headed out to the meditation retreat.. during the retreat, I found that during the sitting I was in quite a bit of pain.

There is something not quite right with my hip (I injured it years ago and it has never quite healed properly.. so I am forever re-injuring the bloody thing!).

Apparently, with whatever type of injury it happens to be, the angle that my leg happens to be in is very important, and I generally have to use cushions judiciously to make sure that I support my left leg so that I don't hit that spot that causes me so much pain...

Well, at the location that was hosting the event, (a local university), there were no support cushions! (I usually use a large flat cushion which is about three feet square, upon which I use a few other cushions to sit upon and to prop up 'loose bits' here and there...), and we hadn't thought to bring any, as the hosting organizations for these types of functions generally provide them.

Consequently, we were essentially sitting upon a hard floor without any type of support whatsoever. As you might expect, I was hurting within minutes (well.. seconds.. it pretty much sucked!), and it only got worse as the sitting wore on...

As I sat there, the pain began to distract me from my practice... at some point, I simply decided that there was nothing I had to do about it (and nothing much that I could do about it, truth be told..), and that it just hurt, and that was that... I let my mind focus on the pain whenever it seemed to need to, and then I simply returned to my practice...

Well... this had an unexpected result for me... after a while, I felt a curious sense of freedom from realizing that even though I was hurting, I didn't actually have to do anything about it! I had basically forged a contract with myself that I was going to continue the sitting, that I wasn't going to move, come hell or high-water, and that if I was uncomfortable, well... daunting as it may seem, that was just the way it was going to be, and be that as it may; I was going to sit, and sit for the duration; pain be damned!

So.. I sat. And, despite the pain, which under most circumstances would be a huge distraction, I sat well! And then the unexpected thing deepened... I began to notice that others were beginning to fidget and move around a little.. it was clear that they were also very uncomfortable, if not in pain, and some were moderately distressed by this. They all continued to sit and meditate, however, for the most part... save for one lay-person who began to fidget and squirm quite a bit.

For this retreat, one of the other monks and myself were sharing an identical responsibility for the event (we maintain order and see to the needs of the participants, help to ensure that things run smoothly, and enforce proper etiquette and discipline... there are rules since it is a formal event). The other monk at one point corrected the individual by instructing him to 'sit still!'.

(Note: The proper way to approach a situation where you are in physical pain, discomfort, illness, or any other problem that affects one's practice, is to approach one of the monks designated for the purpose, and that monk will accompany the individual outside of the meditation area or room, and attempt to resolve the problem... failing that, the individual will be installed in a separate meditation area set aside for those who cannot practice in such a fashion that they will not disturb others... this is all explained to any group prior to the start of the formal portion of the retreat or session).

Well, upon being told to sit still, this individual surged to his feet, said "Fuck This!!" in a fairly loud voice, quickly gathered his things, and left... his wife, mortified, followed after him a few seconds later...

I had noticed that something had been bothering this man for quite some time, but he, for some reason, resisted letting anyone know about it... in fact, he had been quite reluctant to follow any of the suggestions or instructions that we had been giving from the very start of the program... which is fairly odd, since most of the participants at these events generally follow instructions and are eager to take part in, and to experience whatever it is that we ask them to do. This fellow was plainly different in this respect.

I briefly wondered why he came to begin with... I could tell that he had no interest in doing this, whatsoever....

Although I don't honestly know what his reasons were, or why he came, or why he acted the way he did, I think I can make some fairly accurate conclusions based upon my observations of him, and based upon some of the things that I heard him say during the earlier part of the day. I concluded that his wife had to have convinced him to come, which is a fundamental mistake, since this is not a sort of thing that one should attempt to talk anybody into, since it is such a highly personal calling that drives those of us who have decided to make this practice a part of our lives that I cannot imagine anybody doing it who doesn't have such a vocation... it is difficult, physically painful, requires a great investment in time, discipline, effort, and concentration... and, simply wouldn't have any beneficial effect on someone who had no interest or desire to do it... so why had he come??

My first thought was that the wife had nagged him or bargained with him in order to get him to accompany her... but this didn't resonate after turning it over and giving it some thought. He wasn't the type to be swayed that way... he didn't seem to very much care what she wanted him to do, or, for that matter, what anybody might want him to do.. he was basically the type of person who did what he wanted to do - when he wanted to do it, and that was pretty much the way it went.. this much was fairly clear to anyone who came into contact with them. So, It had to be something else...

Then it occurred to me that he had very probably come in order to save face in front of his wife! It is my thought that he didn't want her to think or come to know that he didn't know anything about this practice, or that he had never done it, or that he wasn't good at it.. (can one be good at this??!)... or something along those lines.... I heard him talking to her as they were walking through the building to find the room where the retreat was being held, and he was telling her all about how these things went! He was, apparently, well read on the subject, but, this isn't a thing that you can truly come to understand without participating... sort of like swimming or something, I suppose... it wasn't a favor to her, that much was clear... this was entirely about him, and when he found that he was coming up against the brick wall that all practitioners come up against when they first confront their own mind without the distractions of day to day life, or when they confront the inescapable physical discomfort and sometimes outright pain, boredom, the necessity for intense self-control and self-discipline... and, to come right down to it, a group of other practitioners who seem to be tranquil, peaceful, calm, and utterly unaffected by all of the aches, pains, great doubts, and the whole host of other annoyances and vexations that seem to be plaguing only you!! (But it isn't only you! It affects everyone pretty much the same way..)

He had probably made some statements that he was having a hard time backing up, now that it came down to it (this can be an austere and daunting practice.. it isn't easy, but anyone can do it if they commit themselves to it...) He wanted to convince her that he was worthy of this... and when he felt that he was not - that he was the only one who was having a difficult time of it.. (which was very untrue... every single person was in agony to some degree or another... it is simply the way it is sometimes during these long sittings....), he became agitated, angry, and felt that he had to flee. So, he created his escape strategy by deliberately doing something that he knew would eventually be addressed by one of the monks who were present, and then, under the guise of being offended or insulted; he left!

The thing was, nothing insulting was said to him... others had been corrected in exactly the same manner, he wasn't the first.. its all part of the deal... he was quite aware that he could have simply approached one of us, and that we would have found a solution to whatever issue that he was confronted with... but he was running away from something else; and that was the inability to convince himself of his worth in that specific circumstance. It was entirely unnecessary; he was just as capable and just as able as any other person there... but he let his desires and his frustrations cloud his mind and get the better of him this one time.

So how is this a gift??

Well, it occurred to me that I had been attempting to do very much the same thing that he had been doing when he was trying to convince his wife that he was knowledgeable, experienced, capable... and, probably much like it was with him, I had been doing it quite unconsciously. I don't believe that I would have ever even noticed that I had been doing this had this not occurred, when it had, under the exact conditions, and when my mind was receptive to it. My situation was different in a few ways, but essentially the same. Where he was trying to convince himself and his wife of his worth or ability... I was trying to convince my teacher of my knowledge, experience, and, consequently, my worth. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself, as well... I don't really know. There was no valid reason for either him or me to have to do this... but, our minds work in inexplicable ways, and for whatever reason, we each felt that we did have to do this... and we were both fairly foolish in doing so...

His method of dealing with what he perceived to be an intenable situation after all of his pre-existing strategies had been tried, failed, discarded, and ultimately found to be useless under the circumstances, was to concoct an escape hatch. Much as people will do to end a relationship when it becomes sticky and complicated and they want out.. but do not have the moral courage to either face it head on, or, more likely, to face their own ineptitudes or shortcomings in the failure of the relationship.

It is very possible that I was heading down that same road of 'try/fail/try/fail, get frustrated, disengage, run-away', had I continued along that path without learning something about myself, something about the reality of the situation, and, perhaps, gaining some small degree of wisdom in the process.

The physical pain, however, had just at that moment taught me that I could manage to continue my practice without taking any action to try to avoid or escape the discomfort. I was free! Even though my body wasn't happy... my mind was completely at ease! This is quite out of keeping with the ingrained avoidance response that most of us have with regard to discomfort, awkwardness, pain, or anything that we find we do not like... Somehow, I had stumbled across a way to break out of a day-to-day habit based, I think, primarily in fear.. or, more likely, the practice did what it was designed to do and ground away these habits until only this response was left... I'm not really sure.

When I observed this man's discomfort, the degree of his internal turbulence, anguish, agitation, and, ultimately, need to address it in the fashion that he chose... I suddenly realized that had he simply accepted the situation as it was presented to him, and had he continued, regardless of the pain, regardless of the difficulty, regardless of the discomfort.. in other words, had he broken out of his day-to-day habit of avoiding those situations that are not familiar and comfortable.. that he very likely would have made a vitally important breakthrough in his practice, and, in his life!! -- You see; There are situations that you do not (can not!) defeat. You do not solve. You cannot escape from. They defeat you. -- and that is alright. You don't have to do anything about it.. you don't have to feel bad about it... you don't have to act or think at all... this is simply the way it is. As a matter of fact, it is almost ridiculous to attempt to win in these circumstances... and you are not one iota less of a person for it. THAT is the lesson. It is okay to lose sometimes. You can only do so much. Be content! Breath in. Breath out. Wake up. Be alive. Understand the truth of your existence. That's all!! Just BE!

When I applied this realization to my own circumstances; to my own weaknesses, if you would term them that... I understood instantly that my expectations or desires to appear experienced, knowledgeable, worldly, worthy.. good enough were only so much smoke and mirrors. Who did I need to convince?? And, maybe more importantly... why do I feel the need to convince anyone, including myself, of any such thing at all??

The answer is, of course, that I do NOT have to do this! I don't have to do anything!! This was an obstacle to my progress... and one that I never would have seen, or faced, or dealt with, until, perhaps, the situation had gone so far that it was too complicated to unravel and it became a crisis for me.. and then, who knows?? I very well may have fallen right on my face.

But, thankfully, this man who I do not know, quite unwittingly chose to give me a gift of wisdom by momentarily sacrificing his tranquility, and, to some degree, his sense of dignity, and in so doing he held up a very clear mirror right before my face and gave me a glimpse of the truth that lay within my own soul and psyche. And, much as I did with the physical pain, I realized that I didn't have to take any action, or do anything about it, other than to acknowlege what I had learned, and then simply move past it and leave it behind. It will come back... many, many times, I'm sure... in all sorts of different guises... but now I am forearmed because I am aware that this exists in my mind.. and I will acknowledge it, and leave it behind again!!

He wasn't a bad man, or stupid, or weak, or anything in the way of a label that will stick. He just made the choices that he made when he made them, and for some unknown reason, this resonated with something inside of me, and he unwittingly became a teacher of a very important lesson that I very much needed to learn. I am free now of this need, because I have caught it out and exposed it to the light! I understand a component of my psyche that may have caused me untold problems in the future, and which, I am sure, has caused me problems in the past... now, perhaps it will be easier to deal with; once you learn how the trick works, you aren't as easily fooled by it again..

A gift!!

Mind you, this is definitely not something that I am happy to learn about myself.. quite honestly, in my own private view of myself, I am quite above this sort of thing.. I'm "better than that"... but, truth will out as they say, and any spiritual path is, above all else, a quest for truth.. or it should be.

Naturally, we embark upon such a path in order to transform our consciousness.. to change and to improve and grow and become somehow 'wise'. If there wasn't a 'seamy underbelly' to our characters and spirits that needed addressing, the whole thing would be a waste of time, I suppose... but seeing ourselves in all of our unadulturated humanity... with all of the quirks, faults, weaknesses, and so forth under the harsh light of truth and honesty is an exceedingly difficult thing to do!!

I assume that nobody really wants to learn that they are needy, wanting, imperfect, dishonest, petty, gluttonous, or inferior in any way to the expectations that we hold for ourselves.

I don't find it particularly comforting... but the truth is the truth! And, thankfully, the type of loving compassion that we have been taught to foster in ourselves through our practice, a loving compassion that allows us to expose these truths and still love ourselves (and others!) just as we are is a very powerful tool...we learn to see the perfection rather than the faults. The faults are there... but so are the strengths. This doesn't mean that we are soppy and coddling, however... far from it! It is compassion... but it isn't a namby-pamby kind of compassion... where we make excuses for our shortcomings... but a realization that all of these characteristics are part of the whole package of what we are at this moment. It is only through this realization, and through work, and practice, and proper choices (and, perhaps copious amounts of mental restraint and self-discipline...) that we can hope to address these characteristics, and, perhaps bring some positive change about in the process...

The simple truth is that not a single one of us can live up to our own expectations... not if we are completely honest, anyway.

The trick is to change the expectations into something more attainable, and to change and improve those things that we are able to improve, and, in so doing, to perhaps find that perfect balance whereupon we become whole, healthy, spiritually advanced humans somewhere in the middle ground that exists between our expectations and our reality...

So... my first gift was a rude awakening.. but, an awakening nonetheless!!

On my way home, I stopped and checked the mail. We got a package that turned out to be the new wind chimes that my wife ordered to replace the ones that had been lost with the trees.

When I returned home, she and I went out into the garden to survey the damage, and to begin to come up with a plan to address the drastic changes wrought by having the trees removed...

As we were heading outside, I half-jokingly commented, "Now that we have nice clean shiny new wind chimes to replace the ones that were lost, we have created the perfect opportunity to find the old ones if they are anywhere on the property!"

My wife chuckled at this, and then promptly found the old ones under a pile of brush!

So now, we have two sets of wind chimes!! (Well.. three sets.. two wee ones, and one big deep sounding set!) What started out as a loss turned out to be a gain! The wind chimes that I had thought were lost had been an anniversary gift that we had given ourselves... they had quite a bit of sentimental value, and I was sad that I hadn't had the foresight to safeguard them.. but, now they are found and we have even more beautiful music to listen to in our garden! Yay!!

This was Gift #2!!

We heard a knocking sound at the door, and when I opened it, Jack (the outside cat) was staring up at me with a distinctly complaining look on his face, and a plaintive 'meow' into the bargain. I wasn't sure what he was on about, but when I looked around for a bit, I spied this wee fellow just gathering up the nerve to sneak back through the lattice and continue munching away on Jack's food; (yes, apparently Jack has learned that knocking at a door gets a response.. go figure..)

I called my wife, and she quickly grabbed the camera to capture some pics of our guest...

Jack is plainly not thrilled with the course of events, but, being an old hand at taking things as they come, he just went with the flow.. we have a rule here at Thistlebright; nobody hurts or threatens anybody else... and that goes for him as well... and he knows it..

The possum, just a baby by the looks of him, didn't seem to consider any of us a threat.. he just went on crunching away, gave us a last searching look, and waddled away, presumably to find someplace to curl up and get some sleep...

This, too, was a gift!

Between these three gifts.. and all of the other multitudes of gifts that each day brings to me, I find that I simply have too many gifts to keep track of...

So... to the powers that be, I would like to send out a humble 'Thank You' for my wonderful gifts... they are truly and deeply appreciated....

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Natural Order... A Tiger Leaping

Today, as I worked, I let the agitation and the internal upheaval over the loss of our trees percolate its way through me and simply fall away...

The situation is what it is, and, like so much in our lives, it cannot be changed or affected by me or by anyone else.

I am thankful for the beauty and the joy that I was fortunate enough to experience through living alongside the two trees... but, nothing is permanent, nothing is immutable, nothing lasts forever.... Everything changes.... even mountains...

This is the way of the cosmos.. and to resist it is a pointless exercise.

So what is to be done about that?

My heart will learn to accomodate the changes, and to flow with them.... now there will be other plants, other trees, and other life that will flourish and thrive in the newly bestowed gift of sunlight in that area..

There will be flowers in the spring and summer where there were none before, and the worries and the stresses over possible damage and/or injury have gone with the trees.. naturally, they will be replaced by other worries, but, then, they will not last either... nothing does.

This situation is a gift to me.. a gift in the form of a minor tragedy that none would even notice save myself, my wife, some squirrels and raccoons, and a number of very confused birds.. a gift of learning. From this, once again, I have come to face to face with the simple undisguised fact of mortality.. the trees', mine, yours, everybodies.... we all come... then we all go!

That is simply the way it works, and it is foolish not to realize it and accept this simple truth regarding our existence...

So.. this is what I must do. Accept. Realize. Understand. Equanimity in the face of change is a more appropriate response, I think... than clinging and refusal to accept changing circumstance, whatever they may be. The world doesn't bow to my expectations, or to anyone else's... and to expect that something will be a certain way is a fundamental mistake that we all make, I think... time and time again. The answer, in a nutshell is to have no expectations, but to maintain an active, accepting frame of mind.. balanced, tranquil, and prepared to move with whatever transpires... instantly and intuitively!! This is much easier said than done, however... but, this is my practice.

Another work-week is done... and tommorrow begins a meditation retreat for me, so I will not be doing anything save for sitting meditation, walking meditation, chanting, and work meditation for the duration of the retreat. Tommorrow I will wake up very early and begin... I will sit and meditate and I will sit like a tiger leaping! I will sit like a mountain. I will sit like a great gnarled pine on a rocky pinnacle!

In my heart, my trees will sit with me, I have not really lost anything, because truthfully, I never had them to begin with... my fondness for them is undiminished, so they are, in a sense, still here... whenever something of beauty is taken away... something of beauty always remains!

The Lovers...

For as long as we have lived here at Thistlebright, there have been a pair of trees on the property that I have come to love dearly... One, an old Mulberry tree, was twisted and gnarled and leaning.... and beautiful. It had at least three differently shaped types of leaves on the one tree... and it was the tree where our bird feeder hung for these past years... growing from practically the same spot was a maple... a little straighter... not quite as tall... upon which we hung the very first set of wind chimes that we bought for the property as a wedding anniversary gift to ourselves...

The two trees were so close that they appeared to be hugging one another... and we came to think of them and to refer to them as "The Lovers" (in a sort of "Tristan and Isolde" sort of way, I suppose...). Their canopy provided an area of cool dark shade on the hottest and sunniest of days in our 'circle garden', where we would often sit, and watch, and contemplate,.. and just be....

Over the past months, it became apparent that the old mulberry and the maple were in trouble; the mulberry began to split open here and there... both on the trunk, and on some of the branches.. which had begun to sag and weep sap.. apparently, this affected the maple, which began to grow thin and straggly.

We brought in a tree expert who told us that we should either have the trees removed, or that they were likely to come down in the next storm and cause damage or injury.

On Thursday, the tree folks came and took those trees away with them. It looks bleak and forlorn without them... the light is all wrong.. even when you are inside the cottage. The place looks strange, and cold, and sad...

I cried. I am crying right now... almost. At any rate, I have an empty, lumpy feeling in my chest and in my throat.

Yesterday, when I came home from work... I stood in the upstairs window for perhaps an hour, and simply looked out at the now barren spot where The Lovers had stood so silently and patiently for all these years...

I am finding it difficult to adjust to how different everything looks now, without them... I suppose because I have grown so accustomed to them being there...the garden looks somehow wrong without them... I almost find myself avoiding going back there, or looking, or thinking about it... but, as it is with such things, it sneaks up on me when I don't expect it to.. you can't really avoid what is... it just is...

Because we were so thrown off our keels over the loss of these trees... neither of us thought to take the chimes down that had hung there all this time... and they apparently went with the maple...

Intellectually, I know that we did what was right, and that it would have been negligent to leave things as they were. I wish that we had had a huge field where the trees could have simply stood while nature took its course, and they could have fallen without harming anything...

Now there is just an empty spot in the yard where The Lovers used to stand...

.. and an empty spot in my heart, as well.

You see... Those trees were my friends, and I loved them.

I will miss them terribly, but, I suppose as in all things, I will simply have to adjust to the change, and adapt to the circumstances.

I think, though... that someplace in the dark, secret reaches of my heart, The Lovers will always stand, quietly, and patiently..., reaching their arcing branches up towards the sky as they always have... Branches upon which I can tie my prayers, so that they can be carried up to the heavens.... while I remain... to dream of my beautiful trees....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Things I Would Say to My Wife if She Were Here..

In answer to Marcheline's post to me, entitled,"Things I Would Say to My Husband if He were Here..."

  • I Love You!

  • I am constantly amazed, baffled, and overjoyed that you love me and that you are my wife... I feel like a member of the most exclusive and coolest club in the world... I am SO happy being married to you!!

  • Someday may or may not ever come... I am content to wake up by your side, and to take joy in each and every moment that I have to spend with you... of all of the billions and billions of years... and of all the billions of people... and of all the billions of miles.... I managed to find you... to fall in love with you... and to make a life with you... how much more can I honestly ask of the universe in good conscience??

  • Working hard is what we do.... you look out for me... I look out for you... (But I can sew better and pick much better parking spots than you do... so you are lucky to have me around so that you can park in the best spots that I find for you!)

  • I agree that you are stressed out... and perhaps tired. As for the rest? I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on... and I wish you could see yourself through my eyes...

  • I Love You!

  • You are the best friend I have ever had in all of my life... the most fascinating, coolest, amazing person I have ever known, and the light of my soul... I would be lost without you... thank you for being born during my lifetime and for being at my side in both the good times and the tough times... you are a true and sincere friend, and you have a place in my heart throughout this lifetime, and, I believe... in each and every other one... you make my heart sing, girl... you blow me away with your intellect, your inner strength, your resourcefulness, and your ability to roll with the punches, I admire you, I respect you, and I love you fiercely...

  • I want to jump your bones.

  • I would marry you anytime, anyplace, and under any circumstances.... If I woke up and found myself single, firstly, I would be very upset... secondly, I would kidnap a justice, minister, priest, shaman, or ship's captain... or whoever could do the job,..... within two minutes. So there. I couldn't (and don't want to) imagine not being married to you... you're my girl!!

  • Did I mention that I Love You??!

  • 1111 2222 191 6969!!!

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    Because Things are Different Now,.. That's Why!

    This morning we sat outside and drank a delicious warm cup of coffee... then Marcheline decided to call her mom and chat for a bit, and I simply sat, happily, and played around online for a while... no goal in mind... nothing to be done, or accomplished, or looked up, or finished, or started, or worked on... just messing around for no particular reason!

    As I am writing this, my wife is in the bathroom washing and putting on makeup and perfume and doing her hair and putting in contact lenses, and doing all of those other mysterious and slightly incomprehensible but wonderful things that women do before they go out in public...

    ... and why is she doing this??

    Well, because we are going to see the 3D re-release of Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas" in just a little while, that's why!

    ... and why is this a big deal??

    Well, because generally speaking, I would be working from early, early Saturday morning, only to run home, change clothes (read 'uniforms'), and run back out to go to work after I get off work.. and, therefore, we would be unable to go to the movies on a lovely late summer/autumny Saturday morning with wind and leaves and sunshine and birds and blue skies and clear air and stuff like that!!

    Because, thankfully and blessedly, I don't work in a job where I am required to haul my ass into work on Saturday mornings any more... I am OFF on Saturday mornings now!!

    Admittedly, I will still be going in later in the day to tend bar... but that's somehow different... and besides, now is now, and later is later!!

    And right now we are going to the movies!!!


    Well, because things are different now, that's why!!!

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Position Wanted

    P/T Evenings (avail M/T/F from 3:45PM till 9:45PM) - Pref Patchogue NY area, or close commute (Sayville / Medford / Holbrook / Bohemia). Telecommuting is welcomed!

    Hard working, detail oriented, go-getter. Administrative/computer skills, excellent verbal and written abilities, experienced A/R, A/P, payroll, writing, editing, document preparation. spreadsheets, presentations, access databases created quickly and accurately. Uncanny analytical skills. Familiar w/ internet, skilled researcher and investigator. Able to write, edit, proofread. Notable teaching and training abilities. Proven leader and team builder, w/ above par organizational skills.

    Graphic artist, manual laborer, file clerk, all around craftsman/handyman, research assistant, yard worker. Speaks english, korean, gaeilge. Multi-faceted quick learner can assimilate and excel in any task that is presented. Fully able to produce professional references to back this claim!!

    Also: capable cook, seamster, bartender, and bouncer. Plays bagpipes, teaches martial arts, and brews mead. Trained to parachute from aircraft, SCUBA dive, and rappel from helicopters.

    Do you have an office you want managed in the evenings? A crew that needs skilled leadership? Parties that require a bartender? I'm your man! Customer service is my specialty!!

    Closets cleaned. Files sorted. Documents translated. Cats trained. New lands discovered. Codes broken. Fields ploughed. Information Acquired. Accounts audited. Virgins deflowered. Specimens catalogued. Ledgers verified. Alligators tamed. Spies interrogated. Escapees tracked and captured. Garments altered. Pictures hung. Available for mutinies, hangings, insurrections, rallies, get-togethers, hootenannies, and hoedowns. Guy Friday. Jack-of-all-trades. Crewmember. Henchman. Minion. Functionary. Overseer. Executive Assitant. Counterperson. Manager. Supervisor. Clerk. At your service! I am available for hire and able to start immediately. Serious enquires only.

    Salary negotiable.

    No animals were hurt or injured in the production of this want ad.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Cool Breeze..

    Truth be told, the new job doesn't really pay all that well... (actually, I haven't been paid at all so far... but I should get my first paycheck as of tommorrow..)

    That is the down side. (.. well,.. the 'not paying all that well part', not the 'getting a paycheck tommorrow' bit... which is decidedly on the 'up side' portion of the 'GOOD / BAD' scale... !)

    The up side is that they are all very nice people, nobody is nasty or overbearing, they let you know what is expected of you, and expect you to do it.

    I am given as much rope as I need, and it is up to me to either do well or hang myself.

    I have seen a few minor catastrophes take place, and not so much as a single feather was ruffled in anyone... these folks are more in line with my personality, I think... at least insofar as I have been able to get to know them. There isn't a lot of talk or banter in the office... we are mostly pretty busy, and we simply keep at it.

    I have already been given my own key to the building, the security access code, and, I basically open up and run the place for the first hour or so..

    If I am able to shine enough to actually make decent money in this place, this will be a fantastic place to work!! If not, it is still a fantastic place to work until I can find some way to pay all of the bills....

    I used to work from 6:30-7:00 AM until 5:00-5:30PM every day, plus 6:30-7:00AM every other Saturday... this worked out to about 53 hours per week... it sucked. On top of that, I tended bar...

    Now, I work from 7:00AM until 3:30PM, and no Saturdays! This leaves me plenty of time to work a part-time second job providing that I can find one that fits that schedule... I am actively looking, and hope to find something that helps me to make enough for us to get by....

    In any case, things are better than they were, and I'm happy!!

    China fully endorses the situation as well!

    In other news, I have been working busily on a fairly difficult craft project, lately. I tend to be driven to this sort of thing, where I can focus my mind on an extremely narrow point, when things are difficult... 'things' being defined as the general prevailing circumstances of my current life situation.. whatever they happen to be. I have been 'sitting' (Zazen -- meditation) regularly with a local group of monks from the Rinzai Zen Order. When I lived in Korea, I studied Zen, which they call Soen, and took my first Ordination while there. The Order in Korea sent me information that was needed to confirm my ordination to these folks, and they are recognizing (at least partially...) my ordination as a monk in that order, and sort of transferring it over to this order (I don't think that this is an entirely accurate description; there is no such thing as 'transferring' the ordination... but they are recognizing my past practice, and jumping my learning progress accordingly. In any case, I was told that, as a monk, I should wear proper vestments. Tradition is that we sew our own, so, I have been working on mine diligently over the past weeks and months. I am putting the finishing touches on what the Rinzai folks call a 'Koromo' or 'Kolomo', (what I know ((in Korean)) as a 'Chang-Sahm). It's a little bit weird, because I have Korean garment patterns in my head.. so they are coming out as Japanese vestments with a Korean accent or something... nobody minds.

    For all of you with question marks floating over your head right now... this is a separate discipline from the main order in which I am currently studying for ordination. There is no impediment or theological conflict, and both orders know and encourage me to learn what I may in my search for truth, in my efforts to purify and enlighten my heart, mind, and soul, and to live a life of contemplation, reflection, and simplicity, which is what I have chosen...

    In any case, since my monastic day is supposed to be broken up into 'work self-support', 'work for mindful caretaking of the home/hermitage/monastery' (wherever I happen to make my dwelling), and 'work of the order', this offers me a way of expressing that work very nicely, since 'work of the order' is described as; "Teaching, social action, care of the environment, the care, maintenance, manufacture or design of 'liturgical objects' and/or 'priestly vestments, or other similar pursuits, ventures, or activity" and my project happens to fit the bill very nicely!

    I have already made vestments for my main order, so this strikes me as slightly strange to be making other vestments... I feel like a monastic double-agent or something... I should design a sandal-phone!

    At any rate, I love the work, I don't use patterns... I work entirely from the patterns and measurements that are inside of my skull.. and I derive a sense of detached, calm, satisfaction in the quiet diligence of my work.

    Today, I should be able to put the finishing touches on the Chang-Sam/Koromo, and then I will move on to whatever the next project in the list is.... if my wife doesn't stave my head in first...

    I am happy in my new job, it is refreshing... like a cool breeze after a period of hard work...

    I am happy with my current state of affairs from a spiritual standpoint... I had begun to fear that I was drifting away from this facet of my life and becoming dangerously one-sided.... and now, I feel balanced and calm and whole.

    I have to find a way to work with and within the universe in order to be able to pay my bills however... I don't want to be responsible for us losing this beautiful home that we have made... so, to a great degree, the pressure is on..

    Anyway... wish me luck on finding the part-time work!! I really need it...

    Perhaps I should think about participating in 'Project Affirmation' with Marcheline of Mental Meatloaf...

    .. I have to do something, and soon.. that much is certain! I have this half-baked thought in my head that it shouldn't be as hard as it seems to be;.. I can do just about anything, and do it well, in the realm of administration, office management and flow, organization, writing, research, art, craft, verbal skills... or manual labor for that matter... it would seem that there should be zillions of businesses close by that would leap at the chance to have somebody who is reliable and capable to work for them... even on a part-time basis... but, it is turning out to be fairly difficult for me to find something... more so than I had anticipated, at any rate. Ach!! I'll find something.. I just have to think outside the box, I guess... keep yer fingers crossed, folks...

    In Peace and Brotherhood,