Losing the Laugher

Losing the Laughter

As a child growing up, nothing and no one could make me laugh till my sides split and my face hurt except my sister, Nanette.  I call her sister though we siblings from another mister if you will.  We grew up and into ourselves with each other from the age of eight. As rural kids we had a free and frolicsome life, running through the woods, riding horses for hours on end, playing in the ancient barn that always seemed unsafe and therefore magnetic.  It finally did fall down one Sunday morning when everyone else was at Mass and I was sitting on the porch, proving it truly was a terror in the making but hey, no animals were harmed in the watching of this incident.

Nan and I always had a unique ability to jointly see the absurd in life and were drawn toward people, places, and feelings that engendered a sense of delight.  The laughter followed naturally and grew over the years.

One Sunday supper, we were maybe 17 or 18, we were in the formal dining room assembled en mass, something the father figure tried to require as a family bonding time but there was such a vast gap in ages that getting us all together was difficult at best, and felt really odd and oppressive to the older contingent of us. There were fancy linen tablecloths, formal china settings and Maida, the grandmother doyenne, was in attendance as well.  It is fair to say the she was not a fan of children so having seven of them at table was already a challenge for her.  She was a New Orleanian through and through so Manners were paramount and we were frankly a feral herd at best.

Dinner was through, the oldest of us were planning our escape to go get stoned and head to the movies so fidgeting was flagrant.  Then Mike came in.  At the time, Mike was Nan’s boyfriend and would one day become the father of their amazing daughter, Brooke Corinne. For now, though, he was the scruffy, barely tolerated hippie who was undoubtedly corrupting their eldest child, so the reception was chilly but hey, it was Sunday, prayers had been prayed at Mass and over food so there was a largesse in the air. Mike pulled up a chair while we were finishing coffee and dessert. 

And then it happened.

Mike reached over Nan’s plate and took a sip of her coffee.  Out of her cup. At this point grandmother Maida could not contain herself any longer.  Someone needed to be the sacrificial lamb for the collective sins of the table that she had endured in silence thus far.  She spoke, acridly, and said

“You allow him to drink from the same CUP as you, Nanette???”

And Nan, the oblivious provocateur, replied:

“Well, I KISS him, don’t I?  Same germs.”

At this point, the oldest of us who were not doing spit takes were watching for the explosion from Maida that just had to be imminent.  What exploded was the laughter.  It launched from a place within each of us that had been tensely restraining our behavior for the entire dinner hour and now, thanks to Nan, all bets were off.  The little kids thought we were simply nuts so they starting screaming with kid laughter.  The stern-faced father was trying to maintain discipline, something he attempted to instill on a completely random schedule so one can say it was laughably ineffective at best and really, only added to the hilarity that was racing around the table like a wildfire.  Nan, not thinking she had said anything out of the norm, finally realized that control had been lost; people were falling on the floor holding their sides and screaming.  Even mom finally ceded her normally fun and cheery façade to history and joined in with her own oh-so-special gut laugh.  She would perfect that laugh over the years much to her mother’s dismay.

And so, the level of laughter perfection that Nan and I have shared was cemented for future decades.  It took very little for she and I to dissolve into gales of guffaws that we honestly had no control over.  Disabling fits that seemed almost medically dangerous when we were in them but again, no control.  They would leave us weak and sore and grinning but something else.  

Peacefully Drained.  

The calm that would eventually overtake us was a shared euphoria of delight. We had shed all the teenaged angst and adult worry and whatever else was inhabiting our darker natures; we had killed the worst in us and let the best of us shine…for a while.  It was therapeutic.  It was delight in each other in that only the two of us knew what the laughter was about (frequently nothing!) and that only the two of had had this moment in life, together. As the years went on, we would set out in the car, sometimes stoned (oh all right, often high), with one destination in mind.  

We were out to get lost.

We drove through the rural countryside of our youth staying only on small, two-lane, back roads and making only turns that would take us away from anything familiar.  We would drive for hours yakking and listening to the radio until that magic moment would simultaneously dawn on us. We were lost.  And for some reason that was the key, the impetus, the trigger that turned on the laugh track that we both craved.  We would sit on the side of some unnamed country lane and scream with laughter at our ability to lose ourselves while being lost. Nothing was really funny, but everything was truly hilarious.

Another cleansing of the heart and soul complete.  Peace.  Out.

Years later I was home visiting from California.  Mom was living with Nan and Max in Gettysburg, PA. The big day out with Mom was shopping at the Gettysburg Outlet Mall and movie or lunch.  Olive Garden was the spot.  The three of us got our table and were trading tales and playing catchup. I have never been able to exactly pinpoint what the trigger was, but it happened. Something set us off and Nan and I started to giggle, then gasp, then scream out loud.  Mom, watching us, became infected with whatever insanity had gripped Nan and I, and collapsed with us.  

We tried, really, we did.

We tried at least act normal.  Sugar an iced tea perhaps?  Spilled sugar from the trebling hands only fueled more laughter.  This was not a polite little tintinnabulation of charming voices elevated in modest mirth.  Oh, no.  This was flat out spit your food and howl time.  We were now laughing at each other’s inability to control themselves.  Nan and I were screaming “Don’t LOOK at me!!!”  Mom was spitting “What are we laughing about??” 

That is where it went off the rails.

Diners all around us (oh fine, the entire restaurant) was noticing us.  Noticing may be too demure a term. There were unapologetic glares.  People were corralling their small children and covering their ears and turning them away from the spectacle that was us.

Ok.  Maybe not quite that bad but people were definitely not amused and, the waitress was now hovering around us like a fly on the butter dish and shooting us what can only be described as the “I am about to call a manger” look.

Chastisement is a weapon.

Teachers have used it for millennia. The Look can stop traffic or encase over-abundant behavior.  In our case, the the withering reproachful glare from our waitress had an effect.  It did.  Nan and I having done our time on the floor of many a food service establishment recognized The Look. We knew we were about to be 86’d.  From the Olive Garden.

The utter absurdity of that struck us as, well funny.  So that funny was added into the already funny show in progress and we knew we were going to tell this story forever.  ‘The Day We Got 86’d From the Olive Garden…With Mom’.  And off we went.

I think we just plain wore out funny out because we eventually calmed down, finished up our meal, paid and left.  The leaving was a tad awkward as everyone, I now do mean everyone, stared us out the door and into the car where we once more broke down at the thought of how utterly absurd and perfect that moment had been.

Sharing laughter with Nanette has been a life-long joy for me. I wait for our time together so that we can simply let go and laugh until it hurts.  It is a cleansing ritual that I share with only her.  As Nan let’s go once more, this time of her mortal coil, I must find a way to regain my smile and maybe one day my laughter.  For now…..

I’m Losing My Laughter

President Obama, Please

President Obama, Please

Set the Tone

A return to “Yes, We Can”

We need nuance, facts, direction, compassionate calm; in short; 

Hope

The President’s remarks to the graduating classes of 2020 over the weekend were striking in their simplicity and powerful in their eloquence.  They were the carefully crafted and considered words of a man, a world leader, a figure who stands so far above the political fray of this moment; our moment of national and global crisis, as to shine brighter than the tarnished remnants of the Fractured Union in which we now barely live.  We exist in a nightmarish netherworld of altered reality populated by bloviated expulsions from a huckster and a fraud who never wanted this job that he currently holds and does not have the intellectual capacity to maneuver within.  The current occupant of this global stage plods and plots his daily course with only the inept and mono-visioned focus of a man held captive by his own demons; demons which now have grown to infect, much like the virus he is being defeated by, the entire world’s hunkering and panicked population. 

We ask ourselves daily, “How much worse can this get?”, “How much more damage can he do in three months?”, or six, or however many months or years he will have at his disposal.  With the legislative checks and balances gutted, neutered, or in many cases euthanized, who will stand up to his schoolyard bully-ism?  

Who will speak truth to faux power?

As a populace, we have been beaten into a stunned silence by the barrage of non-fact and fictionalized “truth” by what can only be described as a despotic demon. This is a caricature that he undoubtedly thinks is a good thing based on his fawning obeisance to other world leaders who operate under the protection of militaristic, propped up, potentates.  We know this.  It is a fact firmly in evidence for years now as proven and witnessed by the sycophantic salaaming with which he believes he is flattering those whom he admires, or needs, or wishes he were more like.

These other world leaders, however strong-armed and backed by strong arms, know him for the fraud he is.  They know him for the weaknesses he displays and are angling with ever more efficient aim, at the heart of our democracy.  Our time in the sun is passing.  Our American Century is already well passed its “use by” date.  We are two decades into a new century and what nation or global cabal will lay claim to this shredded, barely formed, next 100 years? We can only surmise and none of our worst imaginings will be bad enough when we finally have to face to ultimate reality.

The winner will not be us.  Unless.

Unless our most recent past president retakes the reins of civil discourse and once again shows us why he was the best of the brightest.  Why, in the history of our country, we had eight years of scandal-free governance, global accord, and record economic expansion, innovation, and development; all while literally pulling us up out of the fiscal and cultural morass he was left with as he assumed office in 2009.  It is what, historically, Democrats appear to do best.  They problem solve our way into prosperity when the other party has looted our savings accounts of cash, courage, and convictions.

President Obama’s soft, thoughtful, rhetoric to those students of 2020 whose immediate, hard-earned, transitions into the real world were abruptly cancelled spoke more than just graduation oratory. They resonated into a human core that we have had literally excised from our current consciousness.  Numb to even the most blatant abuses through a daily barrage of instant twitterishness, we are reeling in a boat without a rudder; bobbing on seas that grow more stormy, and more disturbed, and more threatening hourly.

Something is going to snap.

The rubber band that has held our democracy together is old, frayed, and brittle.  The virus appeared as if to prove this point.  It could have been a nuclear attack on an ally, or on us.  It could have been a massive cyber-attack on our infrastructure.  It could have been a thousand tiny arrows aimed at a million points of perceived weakness.  Instead, it is a stealthy, one-celled, unseen, virulent agent that is taking us all out.  The world was stopped as efficiently as if someone had pulled the power cord to our lives.  And in reality, all the rest of those horrific end-times scenarios are still quite possible.  They could be heaped on top of the trash pile we are currently wallowing in. If you doubt that, I beg you not to tempt the universe for fate is, indeed, a cruel mistress.

Now.  This moment.  President Obama chose to speak out, critiquing the current president with the slipperiness of an eel and with a fluidity of words that only the highest intelligence can muster.  Heartful yet truthfully blunted, Obama reintroduced us to statesmanship in a ten-minute lecture format.  He must continue and once again take up a mortarboard of leadership that he set aside for loftier goals in his post-presidency.  It is a requirement.  History will judge this moment.

It is true that past presidents, as a rule, hold their tongues on the current administration’s foibles.  But today, the rule of law is abandoned, the courts are now akin to sacrificial altars of paganistic political power grabs, and the congressional oversight is in hiding. Now we need the shock and awe of a thunderbolt, but one sounded with the velvet-smooth cloth hammer of an orator of good cause.

I call on President Obama to once again pick up the overly onerous task of leading us into that unseen future he promised us once more than a decade ago.  Craft a message and deliver it to the Viral Times we are suppressed by.  Give Ted Talks on leadership, speak to organizations and political action committees, and yes, directly to the people of our country and our world, with the clear-eyed vision of a pragmatist, and from the stolid foundation of someone who trusted us through untested times in the recent past.

To hell with the “norms”.  They are dead.  Let us bury them.

Give us back our hope, Mr. President.  Show us how to think again and what to do and we will cheer you on with a resounding,

Yes, We Can…..Again.

Grateful Is Boring

Grateful is Boring

The world is in many stages of grief, anger, fright, and confusion.  Let’s begin there.  Oh, and we’re all, to varying degrees, in some sort of self or institutional lockdown.  We each come to be in our own private Idaho’s of solitude through no fault of our own but none-the-less each of us must come to our own private reckonings with the hermetic existences we are now enduring.

It happened, for the majority of us, quite suddenly and without any huge, impactful, event.  There were glimmers of a “new” virus out there, somewhere, in some far-off Asian province.  We’ve had these before from other disparate places; Ebola, H1N1, Bird Flu each, if we thought beyond our morning lattes, certainly had the potential to kill multitudes of humans but again, “them”, the amorphous masses that really did not affect us or our daily routines. Much.

And then this virus, this Coronavirus; this CoVid19.

One day I’m picking up our friend at a nearby airport for a visit and the next day, literally the next day, we were suddenly sequestered together for the foreseeable future.  It’s a good thing we were all very old friends who had traveled far and wide together over the decades and knew each other far better than most so it was really like a small family of three, on holiday…of sorts.

Except for the niggling of uncertainly that the daily news was feeding us if we listened.  This then bred the full-blown fear that rapidly followed.  Without warning the world “out there” was an apocalyptic morass of potential infection, suffering, and death.  Really, overnight.  And “out there” was outside our front door!

What this does to our individual psyches is a very personal yet somehow shared experience.  This isolation idiocy grows in each of us and on each of us in very different but related ways.  But mostly it is the constipated pipes of our freedom of movement highway (excuse the metaphor but really, how shitty are things anyway?) that affect the majority of us the most.  No quick trips to the store, no drives to Five Guys for a burger without masks, gloves, trays for the car and counting how many customers are in the store before you enter.  I met our neighbor across the street tipping a single used cup into his garbage bin.  We locked eyes and he said, with no trace of irony in his terse voice, “If I don’t come out to the trash bin at least twice an hour I’ma kill him.”  Him, being his husband 40 feet away in their house.  I got it.

But here’s where it gets rough.  Grateful.

It’s on Facebook a thousand time an hour:

“I’m grateful for the sunny day!”

“I’m grateful my family is healthy!”

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“I’m grateful for my precious cat, Precious!” 

Grateful is boring.

There I’ve said it. Bad me.  I’d feel shame and self-loathing if there was anyone I’d be actually seeing face-to-face in the next whenever to even care!  And besides, all wagers aside, I’ll wager that each and everyone else out there is of the same opinion.  

Grateful is boring.

Our lives are boring. Period.

My life and home have never, and I mean N.E.V.E.R been so respectably clean, organized, and perfectly presentable.  My mother would be thrilled!  But my mother would not be allowed to come into my house to see this miracle of modern living.  She’d be in quarantine as well if she hadn’t died decades before all this shit hit the fan.  And she thought 9/11 was bad!

We did the hard shit first: we moved rocks, built walls, rearranged plants in the garden.  I, alone, trimmed 185 feet of 16’ tall Oleander trees, both sides, and the top, down to 6 feet.  Forty, count them FORTY, huge, green, bins of waste; I’m still feeding them out to the green waste guy who now has added me to his Stalag-like list of offenders for TOO much work getting done which, I know, seems very UN-Stalag-like in its rock-splitting historical context but none-the-less, is my new reality.  It took me two weeks, 8-hours a day, to accomplish this one task.  Oh, and I had just had a quadruple heart ablation the week this all began.  The general consensus was if that didn’t kill me then either the CoVid would or a heart attack would, so what the hell…….get on with it.

And then the basement was cleaned and organized.

This actually was the beginning of the fright portion of the picture.  This had never been accomplished before in living history (I’m assuming for anyone else out there, as well).  I unpacked boxes from three moves and two decades ago.  But there was no place to take the give-aways as our local thrift stores were….you guessed it….closed.  We actually put some really hard-to-dump items like pool railings and air compressors on the curb with “$50 OBO” signs on them hoping they would look attractive enough for someone to steal them.  Someone bought them!  We shake our heads in wonder.

The real issue for me is that “Inspiration”, along with Elvis, has left the building. 

Grateful is boring.

I wish I could fully absorb the depth of the First-World, White-Person, problems we are confronting, I do!  I’m a privileged, white, talented, educated, individual but trust me, this shit is weird.  And it’s weird for well-off and well-under alike.  We really are all in this together.  The pablum platitudes that are pumped out have a certain ring to them that in my bones I feel resonates the same with my core group of over-indulged retirees the same as it does for those inner city Detroit put-upons who are still unable to drink their WATER no less wonder what would happen if and when they contract this plague.  For them, too:

Gratitude is boring. But what a world apart those two realities are. 

As a writer and a photographer, I’m having a pesky “block”; a creative logjam that is preventing me from having the inspiration I need to pick up a pen or a camera and create something that soothes my soul and maybe captivates others.

This is such a shit problem when compared to food lines, ER meltdowns, ventilator goodbyes, and the myriad of other tortuous pathways humans all over the world are traversing.  For them, gratitude is also boring but in a much more life or death sort of scenario. They literally having nothing to be grateful for.  Nothing.  They are bereft, seemingly forgotten, and without even hope which I posit is a prerequisite for gratitude. 

No hope=no gratitude.

So for now, from whatever end of the polar-opposite spectrums we all come to this same, fraught, fearful place we find ourselves in as humans, let us at least try and dig as deeply as we can into the fabric of the lives we are living and at the very least, fight for a glimmer of hope.  Then, clinging as hard as humans can to that, maybe we can get to; 

gratitude.

Through a Glass, Darkly

Through a Glass, Darkly

Paul, the Apostle

To see though a glass (mirror) darkly, in the view of Apostle Paul, meant that the truth of the world was obscured from us due to the manifestations of humans and their actions. In his biblical view, when the end times come, the glass would clear and all that was hidden would be revealed to us.  It has certainly seemed to be the end of times these past four long years.  Many on the right have been praying for an actual apocalypse that would sweep them off to their heavenly reward, and the rest of us 74,000,000+ off to hell.

The End Times of Trump have come and are almost gone.

With that recognition sinking into our battle-weary psyches, things ARE looking a bit clearer.  Yes, we have a long tail of a recovery from so many of the ills that were inflicted upon us; we must deal, now, with CoVid, we must inject help into our severely damaged economy, we must protect and expand healthcare for all Americans, and we must guard against and rail against inequities that the rest of the 70,000,000+ would love to see inflicted on us (and themselves but that is a bit of crazy that is too far for this piece). So, we begin with today.

tRump has not and may not concede.  What to do, what to do?

Our incoming POTUS-elect and FLOTUS-elect are already doing it.  They are ignoring all the noise and bluster that has and will come at them and already are hard at work planning, scheduling, vetting (there is a forgotten word that I nominate for the Word of The Year in Webster’s for 2021), and getting back to the basics of good governance.

POTUS-elect has a stack of Signing Statements (which should actually be outlawed but only after we have used them to right the ship of state) all lined up and ready to sign “on day one” as everyone loves to intone.  A good start.

If we know anything about POTUS-elect, and we know a lot, he has already begun substantive discussions about how to re-engage the US into the critical components of world order that the last occupant tossed into the dustbin; The Paris Climate Accords, The WHO, the CDC, the Iran nuclear agreements, and on and on.  They are going to happen, soon; Day One, Two, Three and onward.

Yet there needs to be a clarion call to change right now.  After the last four years of watching the cesspool of Washington grow into a sewage containment hazardous waste site with no plan for abatement attached, this would be a great place to start.  There will be and already are immediate vacancies, whether from the “you’re fired” chief of state or from the “I’m retaining counsel to keep me out of prison” gang, we should immediately be gearing up to upgrade the caliber of our public offices, elected and appointed, again; Day One….or before.  But there is one amazing, critical, easy, unspoken thing that in the POTUS-elect could announce today that would take any wind out of tRump’s sails and really relegate him to the ashcan of historical mistakes.  It would also throw a gauntlet down before he starts to degrade any more institutions on his way out.  A charge that would show, clearly, that the new guys in town mean business.

“One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.”

                                                                                                            Lewis Carroll

Let’s take a page from Alice in Wonderland and “do for others”.  The last bank heist of an inaugural threw 107 million dollars into the hands of a party-planner friend of Melania’s.  A fat lot of good it did anyone except her.  If POTUS-elect wants a statement presidency then start with a statesman’s act.  Cancel the inauguration.  There’s a pandemic raging in our country, tRump will do anything to disrupt and disgrace himself before and leading up to January 20th so why not?

Cancel the Inauguration

Lewis Carroll; “all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others,”  And so, we could really make a dent in the “doing for other’s” philosophy if the inaugural committee switched gears, announced an approved platform of programs that tRump, Betsy DeVoss, and the rest of the pig-stye-porkers have gutted and abandoned, and made them the recipients of some righteous retribution in the form of real money for real programs for real, human, people.  

Protect the thousands of workers it would take to stage and secure this gaudy self-aggrandizing event; the Secret Service, the DC Police and crowd control folks, the transportation systems full of over-crowded patrons and workers, all of that would be righteous and right in the doing.

But most of all it is both a gift and a middle finger to the outgoing president and his minions.  The gift would be to save tRump from having to be literally forced to stand on the Capital steps looking like a five-year-old who just wet his pants in the school graduation.  The Chief Justice could swear in the new administration in the Oval with only family looking on, safely, masked, example-setters all.  Thank yous and congratulations all around and then Joe Biden, with Kamala by his side, could dive into that stack of signing statements and begin, again, to really run a country.

That would be Day One