Sam

My dog, a lab, is mostly manic

With only occasional bouts of panic

At thunderstorms and fireworks

Set off at night by thoughtless jerks.

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By nature she is always happy

And even when I’m feeling crappy,

At the door, my ass a draggin’

She greets me with her tail a waggin’.

 

She seems to find no imposition,

My sometimes surly disposition

And meets me still with love and gratitude,

Despite my curt and sour attitude.

 

Those times when I’m not glad to be me,

She is never sad to see me

Reminding me when this occurs,

To be less like me, and more like her.

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The Salt Life

Dear Buffy,

I hope you are well recovered from the debilitating anxiety you suffered over the recent Presidential Election.  The potential loss of your domestic help must have left you frantic.  I’m so happy you were able to recruit suitable Canadian replacements. Do keep in mind they will require less food and they will bruise ever so easily. Any-who, I ‘m just dropping a line informing you of the tremendous success of my recent boating adventure.

sea-ray

Although nothing like the yachts in our native Kennebunkport; I found passage on the most adorable little dingy, crewed by authentic locals. You would have been thrilled.  There was a former Sommelier and his operatic wife, a television personality and her photographer, a wonderfully ethic Italian restaurateur and his spouse, and an old man and his younger companion whom, I can only assume was his daughter.  The entire outing was a farcical charade if ever there were such a thing.

The crew arrived toting their belongings like the porters on our Nairobi safari.  Apparently their supplies consisted of inexpensive cheesy comestibles and cheap domestic sparkly because the entire group were either opening bottles of bubbly or spending inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom.  They were as giddy as orphans on Charity Day at the country club pool.

We were barely under way when a group of them (to the dismay of the First Mate and completely against previous instructions) were swilling beer and congregating on the swim deck to smoke something the locals call “cigareets”.  Eventually the Sommelier became so inebriated, he fell over-board.  The poor fellow was much distraught and had to be restrained, tied to a paddle board and floated several yards behind us on a tether.

The afternoon was waning and so we headed back to dock with the paddle board in tow.  Now that I think of it, it did greatly resemble a piece of bait tied to a lure.  I suppose then not too surprising that the board and its occupant were attacked by what was later determined to be either a pod of deranged dolphins or the most effeminate swarm of sharks I have ever seen. At any rate, the poor drunken Sommelier was lost.  His wife, upon waking from her nap, was inconsolable until an unopened bottle of champagne was discovered.  All in all, the day was a ripping good bash about.

Please give my love to Grand Papa and inquire about an advance on my allowance.  It seems the television is out in the Bentley, so the purchase of new transport is an unexpected expense.  Cheers to you and the gang.  I’ll be home in time for the Spring Regatta.

Best wishes,

Skippers.

How Not to Succeed in Business

My wife still believes anything can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance, poor naive soul. Many years my junior, she has not yet come face to face with age discrimination.   I on the other hand, have come to terms with some very harsh realities indeed.  But over time I realized I needed a different perspective.  Although achieving success is usually a product of determination, it occurred to me, advancement could also be accomplished through the process of elimination.  If there is only one horse in the race, it’s much easier to pick the winner.

office

At this point, I would like to disavow any implication of mental instability.  I have been tested several times with only inconclusive results. Sure there is a history of mass-murder on my mother’s side, but since the execution of the mentally disabled is a violation of the Geneva Convention, I can only assume a state of complete lucidity at the time of her demise. But, I digress.

Having been passed over for promotion several times by clearly inferior co-workers, I decided to thin the field of competition.  My sights first fell on my cube-mate Ron.  Ron named me Professor Evil since discovering my penchant for writing hate mail to the kids I support through Children International.  Who was he to judge?  He doesn’t know me!  But I knew him. Yes, I knew Ron alright.  I knew about his love for handguns and Bowie knives.  I had just finalized plans for an overly elaborate clown-suited home invasion and disemboweling when Ron accepted a position at a different company.  I wasn’t disappointed to see him go, one down. Two days later, I decided I had expended too much effort on my plan to simply let it go to waste, so I went ahead with it anyway.

Rex was the next to fall prey to my cunning machinations.  He was the office manager, an honorific title at best.  His position on the organization chart fell somewhere between supervisor and lackey.  In addition to a name common to Labradors, he also shared their fascination for tennis balls.  He kept a bright yellow one on his desk for strengthening his grip. He had the habit of bouncing it on the floor as he emerged from his office periodically throughout the day like a deranged cuckoo with his ludicrous announcements.  I dispatched him by taking his ball and throwing it out into the parking lot.  He immediately ran out to retrieve it and was promptly run over by a UPS truck.  It was almost too easy.

Bill I eliminated with African ear mites placed into his headphones.  The deadly parasites, purchased from a leather fetish nun (whom I know strictly on a professional level and recently returned from Botswana), burrowed deep into his brain and eviscerated his frontal lobe.  He went unnoticed for three days, sitting at his desk cursing at himself and asking, “Where the hell am I?”  It was only when he fell from his chair that anyone realized his pathetic condition.  The parasites went completely undetected during his autopsy and his death was ruled as stress related to a recent Volkswagen rebuild gone horribly awry.

Tom went with an arsenic laced Beef on Weck.  Jim starved himself to death as I methodically and subliminally convinced him, the only safe consumables were frozen prunes and water biscuits.  Mike, my final competitor, succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to add yet another cargo attachment to his already over-burdened motorcycle.  I swear I had nothing to do with this one.  The investigating officer could find no good reason as to why the engine was running with the garage door down.  Mike’s wife eventually informed him, in a suspiciously fake British accent, “He just liked the smell of it, Gov’ner”

At last, I was at the top of the promotion list.  At the peak of my potential, where my years of experience in employee relations and dedication to my craft marginally suggested I should be.  Unfortunately, the recent lack of manpower had resulted in the loss of several lucrative contracts resulting in a terrible third quarter revenue report.  The remainder of my group, namely me, was laid off.  Furthermore, I have recently been denied employment at several establishments due to lack of current references.

How to Find and Lose your First Love in 24 Hours or Less

At ten years old my social circle extended no further than my immediate family, a few classmates, and the small group of kids sharing the same path on the way to and from school. This tiny band of side-walk travelers included my younger brother John, my best friend Jamie Thompson, Beverly Watts (the tallest girl in the class) and Cathy O’Neil.  Cathy O’Neil was the most perfect combination of blonde curls, ribbons, ankle socks and black patent leather shoes.

dejectedI had met her the previous year in the fifth grade and we had hung out a few times during summer camp. By the time we were half way through the sixth grade, I was completely smitten.  Running to catch up with her on the way to school, lingering until she appeared at the top of the street, I had it bad.

I knew I liked her. I really, really liked her.  But the word love never occurred to me.  I loved Batman and Lost in Space, I mean who didn’t.  I loved my Mom, but that was different, using the same word to describe with my feelings towards Cathy would just be creepy.  No, I needed another word. I wanted to tell Cathy how I felt about her and I needed to express myself in such a way she would understand the depth of my passion. I was determined to let her know how I felt before the end of the school year.  Seventh grade meant changing schools and perhaps, well who could tell what might happen during the long months of summer vacation.

The days of spring were coming to a close. I was running out of time so I finally decided to tell Cathy just how I felt.  We were walking home as usual, and as we approached the corner where our paths diverged, she turned to raise her hand in a parting wave.  I gathered my courage and hurrying to her I leaned in and said in a quiet voice the words sure to send quivers through the spine of any female. She stood there looking at me.  Her eyes widened as my heart raced with anticipation.  Her face blushed. She turned quickly and ran away.

Well, clearly I had made an impression.  Of course she was embarrassed. She’d probably never experienced such a sophisticated suitor.  I was proud of myself. I walked the rest of the way home confident tomorrow she would be more composed and ready to share similar feelings towards me.

The next day Cathy O’Neil was not in school.  How disappointing.  I hoped she wasn’t ill.  But I’d see her tomorrow or the next day.  Class dragged on like the day before Christmas, but at last the final bell rang.  We all grabbed our books and stuffed them into our desks and tumbled out of our seats in the mad dash for the door.  Our teacher, Miss Richards, called me back.  “Robert, I need to have a word with you!” I was in such good spirits, being held after school couldn’t darken my mood.

She sat at her desk considering how to proceed. “Do you know what the word rape means?”

I don’t recall the exact circumstances as to when I first heard the term “statutory rape”, probably an over-heard adult conversation quickly terminated upon my entering the room.  Or maybe I heard a sound bite from a T.V. news broadcast. But regardless of the method of my exposure, the extent of my comprehension extended only to a vague idea that rape had something to do with sex, and all I knew about sex was first there was kissing, moaning possibly, and a few minutes later, a cigarette. What statues had to do with it all was clearly beyond me.  I certainly didn’t understand rape is to sex what strangulation is to having a sore throat.  All I really knew was I had stumbled upon a shiny new word to place in the treasure chest of my lexicon until there arose an inappropriate time to use it.

So to the amazement of us both, I had no satisfactory response to her straight forward question. She followed with another.

Did you tell Cathy O’Neil that you would like to rape her?” she insisted.  I felt my face begin to redden.  I was speechless and I stood there staring at her.  My look of shock and embarrassment at the revelation my affection toward Cathy O’Neil gave her all the answer she required.  She sighed; relieved to know she was dealing with a mere idiot and not a sexual deviant.

At her instruction, I read the definition of rape in the dictionary.  I mouthed the words slowly and in silence. I still didn’t quite understand it all, and it didn’t seem like the right time to be asking questions but, Oh my God.  Why hadn’t I thought to look up the word before?  I felt small and insignificant and horrified at what I had said to the prettiest girl in the world.

“But I really like Cathy.” I finally managed.

She gave me a “You poor dumb bastard?” kind of look.

My world was shattered.  The day before I had been a boy enthralled by an innocent affection towards a girl I truly cared for.  I had hopes of a great summer spent in each other’s company. I’d rape her, she’d rape me back. And, after a respectable period of time, perhaps a week or two, we may even hold hands and kiss.

I think you should probably stay away from Cathy for a while.” she said at last.  “I’ll let her know that it was a mistake and that you didn’t mean what you said.” 

I walked home under a cloud of shame and disappointment over my failed attempt to win the affection of the fairer sex.  Cathy O’Neil never spoke to me again.  Over the summer she moved away, her father transferred to New Brunswick with the Canadian Air-Force.  Though saddened, I was still aware of how lucky I had been. Miss Richards hadn’t mentioned talking to my parents or the Royal Canadian Mounties for that matter.

In the age before Title Nine, social and political correctness, such a grievous error committed by a clueless twit, could still be resolved without a court hearing or mandated sexual counseling.  Writing 300 times on five sheets of paper, front and back was sufficient.

I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.

I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.

I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.

The Bones on the Wall

capuchin-chapel

A few years back, my wife and I took a trip to Scotland with my brothers and their spouses.  We travelled back to the land of our birth to scatter the ashes of my mother and father over the waters of their beloved homeland.  After fulfilling our parent’s wishes, my younger brother and his wife drove north to explore the ruins of castles, while my older sibling and his wife joined and me and mine heading south for a cruise of the Mediterranean.  We ported in Niece, Monte Carlo, Sicily and my favorite destination Rome.

I had long been fascinated by the eternal city, the history of the empire, the accomplishments, conquests and abuses of the emperors, the rise and fall of one of the greatest civilizations in the history of the world.  Upon arrival in Rome, through the brilliant foresight of my sister-in-law, we were not limited to a crowded ship sponsored excursion.  She had arranged for our party to be picked up dockside by our own personal driver who escorted us for the entire day on a private tour of the city and its many sights.

Instead of just one or two locations, we visited all the places most favored by tourists, The Colosseum, Circus Maximus, The Trevy Fountain, The Pantheon and Vatican City to name but a few.  But for me by far, the most fascinating stop in our long day was not to be found on any cruise line brochure.

The Capuchin Crypt is a collection of six small chapels beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto.  The walls of the chapels are adorned with the skeletal remains of friars who have been buried in and exhumed from the holy soil (carted by the friars from Jerusalem) beneath the church. Macabre does not begin to describe it.

Despite what has been written about the place, both by the Catholic Church and its detractors, I find it still to be a curiosity, not only historically, but for what it reveals about human nature and our desire for immortality.

On average, a friar could expect to rest for thirty years or so before being dug up to make room for the next newly departed. I recall in amazement the dark bones decorating the walls in each of the small rooms, and it occurs to me how much like memories are the remains of those holy men, buried, almost forgotten, then dug up and exposed by some unforeseen event.  Those bones speak to me as I write.

I rediscovered writing in a Life Story class at my local library.  I always regretted not having recorded the remembrances of my parents.  After their passing, I had only the shadows of the stories they imparted to me as a child.  At first I thought writing my story was about sparing my own children the same sense of disappointment, but I came to realize it was more about telling my own journey in my own voice.  It was about telling it for me, more than anyone else.  I want to write down what I recall, while I still recall it.  My father died of complications of Alzheimer’s and the ghost of his infliction haunts me still.

And so I started digging up the bones.  Like the Capuchin friars, I sift the sacred ground of my memories, unsure of what I might discover, recovering pieces buried for decades, one fragment leading to another.  I pull them out and arrange them on the wall, the pages of my journal.  It’s not a popular tourist stop, just an obscure little place stumbled upon occasionally by people looking for something else entirely, known perhaps only by the locals or a few invited guests.

So far I have only dug in familiar ground, focusing in one or two rooms where the light is good and the floor soft and shallow.  But I know there are other rooms where greater force will be required to break the surface, where the shadows cling not so closely to the corners.  But whatever I uncover in those dark places, the bones on the walls will be my own.

A Walk With My Father

old-man-and-young-man-walkingOne evening in the summer of 1999, I was walking with my father. We were returning home from The Swan, a local pub in the coastal town of Stranraer, Scotland.  My brother and I had come with our families to visit my parents.  It was the first time we had seen them in the three  years since they had returned to Scotland from the United States.  

A chill air surrounded us as we walked through the close streets of the town.  It was June, but the weather was still cool and damp, and as we made our way past darkened store fronts I told him of my impending divorce and my concerns about moving out of my home and setting up a new household. I was worried about my ability to care for my children on a diminished income and how to provide stability, despite their changing environment?   We walked for a few moments in silence and then he uttered the words that haunt me still.  

In his thick Scottish brogue he said, “My father died when I was 14.  He never gave me anything but the back of his hand!  And I was happy to have it.”

In 1969, by the time I was 12 years old, I had watched nearly every episode of Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, Andy Griffith and My Three Sons.  With research conducted via after school re-runs and prime-time family viewing, I considered myself an expert on the structure and function of the American Nuclear Family.  Of course the head of the household was always male, a sober white-collared engineer or architect, strong but kind, firm but fair. Mothers, if there were one, for mothers could often be replaced by curmudgeonly old uncles, maids or a trusted man-servant, were always of the beautifully coiffed, perfectly appointed, stay at home, and supper on the table variety.  Children, one to three were an acceptable number, were handsome, respectful, and constantly getting into the type of problems that could be resolved within 30 minutes allowing ample time for commercials.

No childhood indiscretion was so calamitous that an appropriate solution could not be found within the bounds of a good firm talking to. There were no spankings, no angry fathers yelling, no children made to feel terrified or inadequate for their ignorance of the far-flung consequences of an un-made bed or a bad report card.  No standing stiffly with an outstretched hand in anticipation of the quick snap of a leather belt and the steel resolve not to flinch and suffer the consequence of another.

I cannot remember an incident for which my father apologized.  It wasn’t in his nature.  And how can we learn to avoid mistakes unless we learn to recognize them for what they are?  We are after all, nothing more than the sum of our experience.  We learn from what we observe and choose to imitate or ignore the example of those that hold influence over us.

My father mellowed with time, especially in his later years. I had long ago forgiven him for any perceived injustices when on that long walk home he told me of the loss of his father at such an early age and of their broken relationship.  But in 1969 without the benefit of foresight and with the dauntless indignation that is the dominion of all 12 year old boys, I thought my father had simply grown up without a T.V.