A Day in the Life of Death

Sam Smith. That’s the name he’d been going by for the last 150-plus years and it suited him fine, like the 21st Century and it’s clothing styles, which he thought of as he adjusted his tie, making certain that the double-Windsor knot was as small and tight as possible.

He enjoyed looking impeccable for the job, which no matter how much he worked at it never received decent PR. That had always been a problem with his line of work – death.

Time after time, he’d hear how death came for someone who’d had an accident, or murdered or who committed suicide. It wasn’t up to Sam Smith to take someone as much as it was his duty to escort the person towards the afterlife.

In fact, in last the 997 years, he’d only used force once and that was on a Viking Heathen Wolf. There was no reasoning with the man and by the time the confrontation was over, Sam Smith had lost his right arm to mad-man’s sword.

It was embarrassing to have to go to the office the following day to file an on-the-job injury report and then over to the clinic to have the arm reattached. That was also the last time he’d transfigured himself from human form to what people called the ‘Grim Reaper.’

“Do it one time and they think you do it every time,” he’d complain to co-workers.

Finesse, it was the best way to hand anyone whose time it was to go. “Look, it’s going to happen one way or another,” he’d tell the targets putting up a fuss, “Make it easy on yourself.”

His day was nearly complete and he had only one target remaining on his list. But the 86-year old man was proving difficult to find as the man’s inner spirit had gone extremely quiet, something Sam had never encountered before.

For his part, Yoshio Watanabe knew his time was at hand and he had made all the preparations for his passing. The old World War II vet had also promised that when death came to take him, he’d put up one last fight.

Yoshio Watanabe sat quietly in the clearing amid the trees on the outskirts of Tokyo. He had dressed traditionally, a silken kimono, wooden geta’s on his feet, and both a Katana and Wakizashi tucked into the sash tied about his waist.

Sam Smith finally found Yoshio Watanabe. He instantly knew he was going to have a problem with the old man.

“Come on, Mr. Watanabe,” he spoke in perfect Japanese. “Let’s not make this any worse than it already is.”

“I knew you’d come for me one day,” the old man said as got to his feet. “But I will not go quietly.”

Sam Smith stood quietly, waiting for the target to move on him. But the old man stood stock-still as if he were assessing his future opponent’s skill level.

“The old man’s cheese has slipped off his cracker,” Sam Smith decided. “Might as well get it done and over.”

Sam Smith stepped to his left. This caused Yoshio Watanabe to respond by moving to his right and withdrawing only six-inches of his Katana from it’s scabbard.

It was easy to recognize a person who possessed fighting skills and even easier to recognize someone who understood how to handle a sword. Within a second, Sam Smith found himself defending against an 86-year old man flashing two swords around as if he were in his twenties.

Yoshio Watanabe wasn’t the least bit surprised when the man who stood before him changed into a Chokuto-wielding Shinigami, the eastern counterpart to the Grim Reaper. Sam Smith knew that he had to conform to the man’s belief system as he battled with the old man.

The two fought back and forth for nearly a half hour, with neither giving way to the other. It was clear to Sam Smith that he was going have to take Yoshio Watanabe’s head before the old man would be completely satisfied.

Sam Smith stepped to the right and to the inside of Yoshio Watanabe. That’s when he dislodged the Katana from the old man’s hand then wheel about to remove his head in a single stroke.

As Sam Smith’s blade drew through the old man’s neck, Yoshio Watanabe, never one to surrender, drove his Wakizashi through the Shinigami’s sternum with enough force that the tip of the sword became lodged in Sam Smith’s sixth thoracic vertebrae.

With the battle concluded, Sam Smith looked at the old man’s lifeless form on the ground. He knew it wasn’t real, but the sight left him feeling empty.

In the distance he could see Yoshio Watanabe still peacefully seated as he had been when he’d first found him. He could tell that the man had passed and that now his real work was to begin.

Sam Smith walked over to the severed head and picked it up. Next he pulled the headless body of Yoshio Watanabe into a seated position, then handed him his head before helping him to his feet.

Together they walked to the nearby ‘Sorting Ground.’ Once there, he left Yoshio Watanabe in the Sorters hands.

On his way home, he tried to pull the blade from his body, but it was good and stuck. All he wanted to do now was kick his feet up with a beer and watch the nightly news to see if any of his handy work had made it across the editorial desk.

“What happened to you?” Mrs. Smith asked.

“Long story,” Sam Smith said. “I had to duke it out with a guy who believed he was Samurai or something.”

“What do you think the Boss will have to say?”

“No idea, hopefully I won’t have to explain. Just go to the doctor, get it removed and return to work. But I still gotta fill out a work injury report.”

“So, how’d it happen?”

“Honestly, I have no idea. I went in to remove his head and next thing I know as I’m doing that, he ramming this stupid thing through me.”

Sam Smith flipped on the TV and headed into the kitchen to grab a brew from the refrigerator. He returned to the living room, kicked off his shoes, sitting down in his new recliner chair, the couple had purchased two days ago.

As he began to watch the news, Mrs. Smith walked into the room, “What have you done?”

Sam Smith looked up at her, a case of puzzlement showing on his face. He clearly had no idea what he’d done – but he was certain Mrs. Smith would tell him.

“That’s a brand new recliner and now you’ve ruined it by poking a hole in it!”

“I forgot…” he began to say, but she didn’t let him finish.

“You can be so thoughtless sometimes!”

She turn and stomped down the hallway to their bedroom, where she slammed the door behind her and when she did that, Sam Smith knew instantly where he was sleeping tonight. He’d have to let her calm down before they could talk about it, so there was nothing more he could do other than leaned back in the chair and enjoys what measure of comfort it brought him at the moment.

“What a perfect way to end the day,” he sighed as he lifted the beer bottle to his lips.

Third Night

There’s a Cherokee tale called ‘White Wolf and Black Wolf’ and I’m about to purposely screw it up.

Last night, I allowed Black Wolf to control me. In my darkness, Black Wolf bit down on my head like a vice-grip, shook me violently and kicked away at my innards.

Fortunately, I made it to the bathroom before exploding from both ends. Because it was solely my choice, White Wolf could do nothing but watch, knowing I made the decision to allow Black Wolf to toy with me.

Happily, White Wolf is forgiving and wants me to return to His pack.

The Bargain

My friend passed away. I thought her death unfair. She’d beaten cancer only the week before.
Grief consists of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes these five stages come one at a time or all at once.  In my case, they came at once, hitting me hard.
After a night of drunkenness and petition (okay…bargaining,) God gave an ‘answer’ about the ‘fairness’ issue I felt bitter over: He drew her closer to Himself through her illness because He knew His plan for the remainder of her life and I didn’t.
Life and death are beyond our ability to master.

Wilding

Misplaced feelings (happy, sad, glad, mad) are common as I learned following the death of a good friend. All the night of her passing I whined about how sad I was that she’d beat cancer, only to be taken because of an infection.

To this end, I got blitzed, hoping to numb the pain brought on by my proclaimed mood. A the light of the next day, as I lay in the frosted grass, wrapped in a pony-blanket, freezing cold, it dawned on me, I was never sad.

No – I was beyond mad – I was angry. So add another feeling.

Cheryl Darnell, 1950-2018

“But I thought she was getting better?” I asked.

Kay responded, “Yeah, the doctor said her cancer has gone into remission.”

“That was three days ago, so why is she back in the hospital now?”

“Some sort of infection.”

That’s pretty much how the conversation went before this morning, when my friend Cheryl Darnell passed away. So, here I sit at my computer, in shock-mode – trying like hell to comprehend what jus’ happened.

Perhaps my shock is an after-effect of sitting by Cheryl’s side for nearly seven-hour after her passing, because I didn’t want her body to be left alone. I did this because her daughter, en route from Alaska missed a connecting flight at Sea-Tac, so she was not able to be at the hospital when her mother took her final breath.

It seems so unfair that less than a month after retiring from the airline industry, she would suddenly become sick with cancer. Cheryl had so much life left in her and had so many plans, including moving to Alaska to be near her daughter and grand-girls as well as to travel around the world.

She was a funny woman, in both her sense of humor and her personality. On one hand, she hated to see any animal suffer but she also wanted to “hurt the shit out” of those people who harmed them.

And her love of animal’s wasn’t only lip-service. For nearly thirty-years Cheryl helped rescue, rehabilitate and re-home hundreds of Nevada desert tortoises and turtles.

As for humor, her favorite phrase was “asshole.” I never met a person who could find so many uses for that single word – and it wasn’t always used in a derogatory manner, because she did jokingly call me that from time to time.

Call me a cad if you wish, but when I visited her in the hospital (she’d already slipped into a coma by then,) I whispered in her ear, “Don’t be an asshole by kicking-the-bucket. Besides you and I have a deal to complete and I don’t want you dying simply to get out of selling me that pistol.”

I added, “I love you, Cheryl.”

Thankfully, her friend Bobby was there when she left us, so she was not alone when she died. Bobby’s also the one who called Kay, who told me. Once Kay and I got to the hospital, Kay remained with Bobby, and I took over, sitting with Cheryl’s body.

A ‘shit-kicking cowgirl at heart,’ all I can do now is imagine Cheryl in Heaven, riding her favorite horse ‘Golden Boy,’ with her husband, Jim by her side. The thought brings a smile to my face, preventing me from crying anymore than I already have today.

And as I said the last time I saw her, “I love you, Cheryl.”

To Possess His Heart

A simple fling; a one night stand, that’s all it was to be, but it turned into much more than that. He wasn’t very happy with himself for screwing around on his wife, but it was too late to worry about that now.

She was dangerous, crazy dangerous, and he knew it, but still he couldn’t find it in his better interest to walk away until it was nearly too late. Shortly after he did end their affair, he realized she was stalking him at work, the store, his gym, and at home.

He felt certain that if push came to shove, he could handle her. And he also promised himself that if the woman even once threatened his wife or their son, he’d kill her, making it look like self-defense and if he couldn’t do that, he’d get rid of the body deep in the nearby forest.

Then one evening, he rushed home after his wife called to tell him that a strange woman had accosted her in their driveway, threatening to cut her throat and stab to death the boy. It took him the entire night to calm his wife, assuring her with the promise that he’d file a police report as soon as he got to work the next morning.

Three days later he called the woman to arranging a rendezvous at their usual place, her condo, telling her, “I really need to see you tonight — I gotta surprise I wanna give you.”  With great anticipation, she readily agree.

Unfortunately for her, his real plan was to choking the life out of her.  He allowed his anger to swell, depending on it to maintain the mindset he needed to complete the violent act he envisioned.

That night, he calmly knocked at her door and she let him in. Without wasting time, he wrapped his hands around her neck, crushing at her windpipe with his thumbs.

She struggled to break loose, but couldn’t. Instead, she drew the lengthy kitchen knife from behind her that she had secreted in the belt of her dress and drove it deep into his stomach and then up into his chest cavity.

His eye’s widened in surprise and his fingers grew weak, slipping as she shoved him backwards against the door he’d entered less than a minute before. As his hands dropped to his sides, he felt his body shudder as he gasped his last breath.

She felt it too and relished the sensation as it came through the knife’s blade and then it’s handle. She smiled, looking steadily into the eyes of her dying lover as slid to the floor, a massive puddle of blood forming around his frame.

She stood over him, looking at his body as it lay limp on the floor, daring it to move, but it didn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t. Finally, and with surprising ease, she filleted his now still chest open.

Having watched enough crime TV, she knew what came next. She retrieved the bolt cutters she has stolen from her now-dead lover’s home and began to ‘crack the sternum,’ exposing his heart and lungs.

“I told you that your heart would be mine, one day,” she said as she sliced the lifeless, but still warm organ from his body, holding it close to her face and looking it over. Her mental task list complete, she turned to her kitchen sink, washing the sticky, metallic smelling blood from her hands. “

“Oh, damn it,” she frowned, realizing she had ruined her favorite dress. But the disappointment was quickly replaces by a smile as she said, “And to think, the dumb-ass never once believed me.”

Help Desk

Next to a house of worship, the local library is a sanctuary that is also under-utilized. In the pre-Internet days, a trip to the library was necessary if you needed to do research.

The row-upon-row of dust-cover clad books offered a silent refuge during many stormy points in my life. Along each wall were thousands of stories, each holding a grain of truth, needing to be explored.

Eventually, I discovered my own story among the shelves, leading me back outside where I’ve crafted tales from my life’s adventures. It’s these adventures that have taught me to color outside the lines.

Paradox

On the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s 150th birthday, Carl Sandburg spoke before Congress describing the late president as a man, “who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of a terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.”

When I was a teen, a neighbor lady gave me the 1926 book from which this comes. Love or hate him, Lincoln battled much of his life against depression (melancholia,) but learned to use it as a tool for positive change. It’s all in our attitude.

Our Image

Had Jesus been in seminary with me, He’d have laughed at our ‘purposeful ignorance.’

Once, the class got hung up on God’s meaning of ‘created in Our image,’ – the key word being ‘image.’ Frustratingly, I’d never heard so many differing ideas on the subject before.

(It reminded me of former President Bill Clinton asking what the definition of ‘is’ is.)

After two days, I suggested that anyone not understanding ‘created in Our image,’ should go as a group, find a mirror, look into it, then they’d understand the definition of ‘image.’ Peeving off classmates and professors – it’s what I do.

Trophy

“No! Please don’t!”

The brightness of the moon, as it beams through my bare window, is counter to my nocturnal desire to hunt and that is why we are here. The clock on my bedside, screams 1:23 in frighteningly red digital figures.

“Right on time, dear,” I whisper with pleasure. I suck in a long, deep breath from her panties, which I hold in my hand and that are so much more fantasy-provoking than a driver’s license or an earring as they still smell of her sweet pussy juices and ammonia-ridden pee.

Trapped in the corner, against the wall; she has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. She is my winning prize as I cut her gown from her body, throw her to the shag-carpeted floor and wrestle her panties from her waist and legs.

Her pleading does not fail to thicken my cock as I quickly I kick away my blankets, driving them to the floor with my feet. I’ve held off as long as I can, finally I allow my hand to begin the easy, long strokes I enjoy.

The urgency in her screams send a shiver across my skin, raising the tiny hairs all along my naked body. I lock my eyes on her youthful face, her struggle for freedom, making her ample breasts jiggle under me as I press my swollen shaft into her warm, moist and tight, little cunt.

Such squirming is intoxicating and my hard-on nearly explodes as I softly kneed it’s mushroomed head between my fingers. I know I must hold back, or I’ll finish too quickly and will have to begin again.

Meanwhile, she starts digging her french-manicured nails into the fingers wrapped around her compressed airway – and we both know death is close-by. My experience reminds me that there are only a seconds left for me to finish before her struggle ends – the thought excites me even further.

Suddenly, my muscles clench, my body pulses, a scream rises from my throat and then I am lying in my damp, cum smeared sheets. We’ve gone limp simultaneously, me attempting to slow my uneven breathing, her on the floor at her murderer’s feet.

I roll over and gaze longingly at the newspaper clipping with her picture in black and white, and smile knowingly before falling into a peaceful sleep.

She’ll save the world twice more this month from the violence that continually builds in me and yet I know she’ll never be enough. None of them are ever enough and I can hardly wait for the coming new moon.

Earthling

With age has come aches and pains. It’s easy to look back at one’s childhood and remember when it wasn’t so hard to bend down or climb up on something, not to mention jump off of stuff.

The thought of that activity causes me to cringe because of the pain it would bring. As a child, I spent most of my time outside, barefoot, playing, running through the fields, the woods and creek.

Back then, I was in touch daily with the Earth, but as I’ve grown older the more distant I’ve become. Time to feel our youth once again.

About Time

The loss of a parent or parents is a difficulty at any age. The trauma lasts much longer than expected, and reappears at odd moments of any given day — sometimes decades later.

I wish my folks were still around so I could ask questions — something about themselves, to find out if they experienced a certain something I’ve experienced at a certain age, or even how they’re doing.

But most of all I’d simply like to spend more time with them. If you’re a parent, a child or both make time to spend time with your loved ones before they’re gone.

Imaginings

It seems that every modern, well-known author has a book adapted for film or video. To my way of thinking, these adaptations rob people of the ability to make pictures in their head.

No one needs use their God-given imagination anymore, instead the medium implants images from one person’s perspective into the minds of all those who watch, but who do not read. It’s all effortless; ready made references from a single source.

What would television be without moving pictures? Radio. What would radio be without sound? A book.

It’s time to start watching radio and turning up the books.

Notability Be Damned

High school graduation, I lost my university scholarship and I needed to figure out what to do with my wide-open future. Thus, I applied for an internship in Chicago to work with a nationally-known broadcaster.

I did well in the first two interviews.

The final interview was in San Francisco. It was more of a ‘getting to know each other’ chat, making it clear I had the position.

Suddenly, I felt panicked. Then I heard myself saying, “I don’t want to work for free.”

There was a strangely long silence before I got up and walked out. Not very noble.

Mary Poppins’ Magic Carpet Bag

As little old men went, Johnny had seen nearly everything – except for what he’d beheld only moments before. He had to shake his head and blink twice after seeing Mary Poppins, the newest Governess, draw a lengthy coat rack from her carpet-bag. 

“Odd,” he muttered as he leaned over to have a peek inside the thing. Nothing but ordinary to the eye, so he took his investigation a step further reaching into it with both hands.

Without warning the children’s new puppy-dog dashed into the room, slamming into Johnny. The force caused the old man to lose his balance and he tottered over head-first into the satchel.

Before he knew it, Johnny was dropping through a dark void. He yelled, “Help me,” but the emptiness swallowed up his sound.

Forever and ever Johnny dropped through the blackness of nothing. To him, it was as if all time and space had coagulated in one spot and had sucked him into a certain death.

However, bit by bit, heartbeat by heartbeat, the dark abated, becoming gray and then colored like the rainbow. Johnny was certain he was no longer in London, England, 1910 as everything seemed familiar and yet alien.

No longer falling, if he ever had been, Johnny was certain he was floating – but to where, towards what, he did not know. Suddenly, he heard a distant sound, a beautiful sound, that came from nowhere and yet was everywhere at once.

Voices, singing, music – nothing like he’d ever heard before came to his ears — and the magnificent sound intensified. His fear left him and his curiosity had taken hold and Johnny found he couldn’t get enough of the mosaic of colors and the otherworldly music.

In each splinter and jag of light, Johnny saw images, moving pictures, seamlessly fashioned together as if it were his own memory, flashing before his eyes. At first he tried not to watch, but he couldn’t help himself – Johnny, like a moth pulled to the street lamp, found himself drawn to the flashing images.

“Is this knowledge, a dream or am I dead?” he asked himself as the images came to him at a pace faster than he could think.

He saw two great wars, where millions upon millions died, with one being cleansed by a great fire.  Following this came yet two more wars, but not before seeing a tree, its branches overshadowing  the earth, with powder blue apples, growing it’s roots like tentacle’s into humanity.

His curiosity intensified as he reached out, touching the light. It was clear and bright, like rarefied water, his finger sending concentric ripples emanating throughout the glittering material.

Johnny watched in fascination and horror as nation’s rose and still other’s faded, some in their own violence. He saw bad and good men come, and these same men go and finally a great bloody battle in which a white falcon slew a great brown and red dragon.

In what may have been a lifetime, or mere seconds, Johnny found himself bathed in the warm glow of a multifaceted and color-filled light, one that beamed from a single crystalline being in the midst of a swarm of what he believed to be butterflies. But before he could investigate further, a dog-paddling dog bumped him away.

“What is it about dogs?” he asked in frustration, though there was no one to hear him.

The impact sent the old man careening away from the lighted and sparkling being and the scores of butterflies. Instead, he tumbled head-over-heel into a chasm made of shiny rock, much like a mirror, only clearer.

As he stabilized himself and looked up, he saw himself – a younger man than when he first fell in the carpet-bag. The change made him cry out in surprise.

As he continued through the cleft, he saw himself change to an ever-younger self, until he was a mere lad of three or four. That’s when he noticed the youngster next to himself.

“Where’d you come from – did you fall in Mary’s bag, too?” Johnny asked.

“No,” said the child, “I’ve been here all along.”

“You don’t say!”

“I’ve been waiting on you.”

“You don’t say!”

“Yes, Michael.”

“That’s not my name.”

“It soon will be.”

“Then who are you?”

“I’m your twin, Michael. I’m Mitchell.”

“I don’t have a twin — and my name is Johnny!”

“Look,” Mitchell said as he pointed towards the chasm wall.

There in the reflection of the opening were Johnny and Mitchell, side-by-side, looking identical in every way. Furthermore, they were growing younger by the twinkling and the sight left Johnny gobsmacked and unable to utter a word.

Mitchell smiled, “Soon we’ll be nothing more than a life-spark.” He continued, “And then my job will be done and I’ll return from where I started and you’ll be on your own to begin again.”

“But what about my life up…” Johnny started as Mitchell interrupted him.

“There? Shortly, you’ll remember nothing – not even this.”

“There’s no way I could ever forget this.”

Suddenly, Johnny realized his cockney brogue had vanished and he was no longer physically speaking – he was talking and hearing, but it all came to his mind with out a single vocalization. None of it was making sense, if any of it ever had.

“You’ll forget most of it,” Mitchell smiled at Johnny, “I’ve been through this many times. Believe me. Heads up!”

Without much warning,  the pair slipped quickly into a bubble of very warm, gelatinous soup. “Dear, God!” Johnny choked, “We’re being boiled to death.”

“It’s okay, Michael.”

“No it’s not – and for the last time – my name’s Johnny!”

Months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds may have passed by– he couldn’t tell as he felt a sudden constriction, a tightness that promised to squeeze the life from his now chubby body. He watched as Mitchell disappeared through a narrow gap into another bright light, all the while instructing him, “Come on, follow me.”

Without warning, Johnny came cascading out, coughing and sputtering, and into waiting hands. Also without warning, he heard himself screaming in panic as he found himself being passed from one person to the next.

“What the devil’s happening,” he shouted. But something was wrong, his words were like gibberish, garbled and non-nonsensical, which added further to his fright.

“We’re so sorry,” a voice thundered over head. “He’s still-borne and there’s nothing more that can be done.”

“What was his name again,” a female asked. Another answered, “Mitchell.”

“Poor, sweet baby boy, never had a chance,” yet another woman stated. “But the second baby boy is certainly lively – screaming and kicking like the dickens.”

“I’m so confused,” Johnny cried. “What’s happening and where am I?”

“Welcome to the world, little man,” cooed the first woman’s voice. “Michael is a strong name.”

“I’m Johnny!” the once old man cried as he found himself in the arms of yet another woman. She tucked him in next to her chest and introduced him to her breast.

“I’m Johnny,” he gurgled, “I’m John…hey…this is… good… I…I needed this…thank you.”

As he continued to suckle, Johnny grew more and more content until he no longer had any wish to remember the world he had left. And thanks to Mary Poppins’ magic carpet-bag, Johnny, now named Michael, would soon enough learn of the world he had entered – New York City, USA, 1960.

From somewhere on the street below a dog started barking.

Flying

Sigmund Freud believed flying dreams were a means of sexual release. But he thought that about everything.

For me, taking flight begins with the ‘hop, skip, jump,’ like in track-and-field, ending in a gentle landing, running as if I were using a ram-air parachute. A friend of mine claims flying dreams represents freedom, hope, control, motivation or a new perspective; the desire to escape from the stresses and pressures of everyday life; that the dreamer has reached a higher spiritual connection; or that the dreamer simply thinks they’re better than everyone else.

My flying dreams have stopped since learning this.

Tender Mercies

Awoke bone-stiff – old age perhaps – and there’s nothing I can do beyond remain mentally and emotionally young. The morning’s air is chilled, and I inhale it slowly, recalling the day’s chores ahead of me.

The stars are unbelievable, glittering across a blackened sky. It was supposed to rain today, turning to snow – but now – not a cloud in sight.

I feel insignificant in this universe and yet I’m fully cognizant of it.

And as morning starts to fade in, I’m glad my sore bones got me up in time to watch the sun rise. Thank you for Your tender mercies.

Hero

Recently, I met a Grunt who survived seven tours, three in Iraq, four in Afghanistan. During his last tour he got dysentery, but not quite bad enough to be sent home.
The Skipper called him a malingerer, yet on his next ‘walk outside the wire’ he saved his squad from an ambush. Got a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.
Then they sent him home. He bought an all-chrome hot-dog cart with a large yellow umbrella and now sells red-hots and foot-longs to lawyers, tourists and millennial’s all day long.
He says, “There ain’t much call for heroes these days.”

Dog-speed

“When you say ‘dog-speed,’ what do you mean?” I asked in response to her strange ‘good-bye.’

All I can think of are our dog’s.

The eldest is 11-year’s old. He’s not as spry as he once was, enjoying sleeping on the couch and not being outside running with the others.

Then there’s the middle dog, who at nine-years, enjoys sunning herself and wrestling with the youngest. As for the’s youngest, he’s still a puppy, racing all over the place.

She frowns at me, “I said ‘God-speed, not dog-speed’”

With a stupid smile on my face, I simply replied, “Oh. Sorry.”

Mystery Grab Bag

At the end of summer, a few days before the new school year would start, came the Del Norte County Fair. One of my favorite’s things was the ‘mystery grab bag,’ where for a quarter I could select a brown paper bag full of stuff.
Sometimes it was full of crap, which was disappointing. Sometimes it was filled with stuff I couldn’t wait to get home a play with.
Because I never accepted the disappointment, I’d return each year with a pocket full of quarters and optimism. Life is very much like a ‘mystery grab bag’ and worth the price.

Weather

It’s been said that you shouldn’t buy a book in which the story begins with the weather. I don’t know why, because without the weather – what would any of us have in common to complain about.

It would be a rare thing if we all agreed on the weather. The best example is the weather-caster, who publicly complains it’s “too cold,” when days before he or she complained it was “too hot,” and we needed, “cooler temperatures.”

Not all wishes come true. As for me, I’d quit complaining in an instant – but then I would have nothing to talk about.
 

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Trixie

For the third time in eight years, I found myself sitting on the floor in the veterinarian’s office in tears, saying goodbye to one our dogs. I had to have our Yorkshire Terrier, Trixie, put down this morning.

It was time, she was very old as dogs go, 17-year, one month and 18 days old in human time – 71-year’s in dog-years when properly calculated. She had long ago lost her ability to hear, she had only three teeth remaining and blindness and incontinence had come on her without warning.

For all of her life, Trixie was a brave, independent and stubborn spirit. She traveled and explored places with me, chased rabbits and even backed-down two Rottweiler’s that she felt had gotten to close to her human, earning her the nickname, “Rotten-weiler,” for a bit of time.

Once, while hiking the slopes of the ghost town, Bodie, California, I heard her barking furiously. After barking like a crazed-dog, she’d charge forward then race back to me.

After watching her do this a couple of times, I finally saw it: a rattle snake. Trixie not only was trying to chase it off, she was also warning me, trying to keep me safe. She got an extra treat for her bravery that evening.

She was also my ‘four-legged supervisor’ when it came to projects around the home. She was endlessly curious about whatever I was doing, whether re-plastering a wall and painting it to fixing our fence to pruning the rose bushes.

Her curiosity was such that as a puppy, she’d growl at the bull-skull that hangs in our living room. I’d hear her, but never could get to the living room in time to see what had her on alert.

Finally, after a couple of months, I watched as she placed her front paws on the wall, making herself twice her height and studied the skull some ten feet above her head. After a few seconds, she emitted a low growl of suspicion, which was finally satisfied when I pulled the thing from the wall and let her investigate it to her hearts’ content.

My wife and I both saw the change in her behavior and we knew that one day soon, we’d have to make the hated decision. That day came last Thursday when the always the food-centric dog no longer had an appetite and what she did eat, often came back up on her.

And instead of retreating to favorite blanket to sleep, as was generally her habit, she began standing for long periods, head down, back-hunched, listlessly staring into the distance and acting seemingly confused. That’s no way for a dog to live, especially Trixie, who had been so full of life at one time.

So there I sat, red-eyed, face-swollen from tears filled with both sadness and joy, as I reminisced over the memory of “Trixie-licks,” as I called her (she loved licking our faces – especially our noses.) She has more than earned her well-deserved rest.

Finally, with one more gentle kiss on her tiny nose, I let her go, forever. Rest well, my sweet little baby girl.

Dog

A human being cannot find a better teacher than the average dog, who knows the full meaning to a natural life: ‘If you can’t screw it or eat it, then piss on it.’ Their definition of a door is that something he’ll find himself on the wrong side of every time.
Finally, because of his character, a dog can’t help but show his truer nature; no head-game to his wants. If a dog wants to be loved, he’ll simply place his head in your lap, tail wagging and look up at you.
Bless the dog that cannot hold his licker.

Seven Things

If I could go back before my birth, I’d tell my folks these things:

“Teach me to always tell the truth, even if it gets me or someone else in trouble.”
“Make me say my prayers each and every night.”
“Show me how to use my head before my fists.”
“Remind me to smile a lot, even when things are bad.”
“Help me learn to control my temper.”
“Finally, make sure I know there’s much more to life than stuff.”

Perhaps then I’d include, “And please — go easy on me when I set fire to the field while killing spiders.”

Spilt Milk

You’ve spilled your milk. But why?
It spilled because there was milk in your glass. Had there been something else in the glass, you would have spilled that.
After all, whatever is in the glass at the time is what will spill out when it gets tipped over (and it will happen.) Likewise, when your life gets tipped over, (and it will happen,) what’s inside you will spill out.
The question is: will it be anger, bitterness, harsh words and vengeance or joy, gratefulness, peace and humility?
Remember, one needs no clean up while the other remains a mess forever.

Cancel the Magazine Rack

My wife’s logic is hard to argue with. Once, while we were shopping, I asked if we could buy a magazine rack. (Yes – sometimes we married men must ask our wives for permission to spend our own money.)
I argued, “That way we won’t have them laying all around the house.”
She simple said, “No.”
I asked, “Why?”
She politely smiled, “Because we’d never get rid of them and we’d end up with more clutter,” adding, “Instead, how about we cancel all the different magazine subscriptions we have.”
She calmly turned and continued shopping.
Damn it! Cornered by my own argument.

Twice the Protection

Some years back, while lost in a hardware chain store, I overheard a man say to another, “They need to get this n—-r music off the radio.”
He was talking about the in-store music system. At first I was embarrassed because like me, the guy is White, then I grew angry because the guy was White.
My anger was soon dispelled by a thankfulness as I came to realize that an aspect of the U.S. Constitution was in play – freedom of speech. Further, I learned that enshrined document is there to protect bigots like him from people like me.

Night Spirit

In his native Lakota tongue, Jimmy’s last name ‘Tatonka’ meant ‘buffalo,’ but no one on the Rez ever called him that – at least not since the Kevin Costner movie ‘Dances with Wolves.’ Every time he turned around, someone called him ‘Dances with Wolves,’ or ‘Sung’manitu Tanka Ob Waci.’

Fortunately for Jimmy, no one but his family knew how close to right they were, because Jimmy Tatonka had a secret, one he hid. Jimmy was a shape-shifter, imbued withe the spirit of the wolf, Sung’manitu, and had the tribe learned of this, he would’ve been shunned, hunted down and killed.

While most native mythology held shape-shifters as evil-doers, their were those few who, upon learning of their gift, decided to use it for good. To that end, Jimmy wanted to become the world’s best Native American Superhero, ‘Night Spirit.’

At one time the Lakota a had superhero, ‘Wicasa Wakan,’ the Sacred Man . Shortly after Joshua Brand, whose day job was as a U.S.  Fish and Wildlife agent, took the name ‘Stalking Wolf,’  some guy named Mike Grell outed him and ‘Stalking Wolf’ disappeared.

After college, Jimmy Tatonka moved to the nearest large city, where he quickly found work, and settling down in a nearby apartment. During the day, he labored for the city’s health department collating water, air and soil samples, and at night he wandered the back alleys seeking law-breakers.

One night, Jimmy finally got his chance. However, he quickly learned that crime-fighting wasn’t as easy as he’d been led to  believe as he found himself boxed into a dead-end ally.

The mistake was his and he knew it, so now he had no choice to fight for his survival and that meant breaking the cardinal super-hero rule of no killing. “Bats would be disgusted — but then the Batman would’ve never put himself in this situation.”

Hunkered down, the man blended with the shadows and shifted into his alter-ego. They had chased a man into the ally – not a wild animal – and Jimmy hoped he’d be able to use the advantage of surprise to get out of this predicament.

There, ‘Night Spirit’ waited for the criminal element to approach. But they were slow in coming and then they did not come at all.

Quietly, ‘Night Spirit’ moved along the wall, making certain to stay tucked inside the shadows. His foot falls remained silent as he tread his way towards the vacant street from which he’d recently ran.

“Strange — where’d they go?” He took notice of the utility truck parked half-way up the street, facing the wrong direction, headlights on.

Without warning, a loop shot over his head and around his neck. ‘Night Spirit’ found himself locked in a life-or-death struggle, unable to get away.

He put up a fight, hoping to getting free, but the more he struggled, the tighter the loop became and soon, ‘Night Spirit’ could neither breath nor hold on to consciousness. The next thing he knew, he awoke in a cage, laying on a cold cement floor in his human-form.

The dog-pound’s lone female attendant screamed in surprised at the sight of the naked man in the kennel. She ran to call her supervisor, who called the police.

It was a cigar-chewing detective in a long, thread-bare raincoat who, with the promise of finding the ‘asshole that committed such an unprecedented hate-crime against an Injun,’ released Jimmy from his would-be prison. After several hours of interviews, an unknown number of photographs and a jarring medical exam, Jimmy was given a ride home.

After closing the door behind himself, all Jimmy Tatonka could think was, “What a fucked up beginning for a super-hero.”

The Struggle be Real

Year’s ago my wife and I went to the store to buy toilet paper. We stood there, debating with ourselves about what to get, fretting over the amount of money we didn’t have.
Sounds funny, now, yet after much discussion and hemming-and-hawing, we got the most expensive four-roll of butt-wipe on the shelf. Our logic was sound and remains so today — neither of us wants to be ruled by an a–hole — even if it’s our own.
So take my advice: get the most expensive roll you can afford. In the end you’ll be glad that you did.

Purpose

“When I was a kid, my mom told me that was my special purpose…” – Navin, ‘The Jerk.’
We all have purpose: to become a personal friend of God, after all He and Adam walked around Eden talking about dogs, women and apple pie recipes; treat everyone with the same love and respect we expect for ourselves – which means we need to love ourselves too; and to have strength in the face of adversity and the courage to carry on no matter what life throws at us.
As for the ‘dogs, women and apple pie recipes,’ — I made that part up…

Remembering Elvis

Anyone old enough has heard the question: “Where were you when Elvis died?”
I clearly recall where I was and what I was doing.
Other things remembered include Elvis Presley’s birth year: 1935, two years after my dad’s.
Elvis sang about staying ‘off my blue suede shoes.’
Two years before Elvis died, we bought dad a gag-gift for his 42nd birthday – a pair of orange suede shoes.
Like me, Elvis was born a twin and like me, his twin Jessie, didn’t survive.
Finally, my wife saw him in concert – and I’m still jealous.
The King is dead — long live the King!

Inside or Out

As I stood at the sink washing a pan that was left to soak overnight, I noticed that it was far cleaner on the outside than the inside where our meals are cooked. So instead of a cursory scrubbing, I put some elbow-grease into it and did my best to shine it up.
And as I built up suds and sweat, splashing around in the hot water, it came to me that most pan’s are like this one and that most people are like this pan. We’re scrubbed spotless on the outside while internally and eternally — we’re never as clean as we ought to be.

Inside the White Light

“Maybe I should have waited after all.” Walking home in a thunderstorm was not Wilson’s idea of fun.

The thunderstorm wasn’t the only thing on his mind; the memory of his brother’s death eight years before boiled in his brain all day — and now all he wanted to do was get home and have a stiff drink or two. But before Wilson could take another step, a bright explosion of light blinded him.

Once Wilson’s vision returned, he discovered he was on the ground. His ear’s rang and he shook vigorously as his nerves misfired. When he was able to get to his feet, Wilson patted at his arms and legs, looking for possible burns.

“Holy shit, are you okay?” Wilson jumped and turned around as a middle-aged man holding a selfie-stick with a cellphone on it’s end, came running towards him.

“Yeah. I think I’m okay.”

“I thought you were a goner. I’m pretty sure you were directly under that bolt of lightning.”

He quickly looked Wilson over, also finding nothing to show that he’d been struck by the lightening bolt. “So, where’s your friend?”

“Who?”

“Your friend?”

“What friend?”

“There was somebody standing right next to you. I think I might’ve gotten it on my camera.”

The man furiously fingered his cellphone. “Here, look.”

The man had taken a photo mid-strike, overexposed and filled with very little other than white. “I really can’t see anything.”

“Look, you’re both right there.”

Taking the cellphone from the man, Wilson looked closer. There were two people in the frame, both surrounded by the white light of the lightening bolt.  Goose bumps formed on Wilson’s arms and the hair stood up on his neck.

“I’m surprised you’re not dead.”

Wilson didn’t reply. Instead, he turned and began running; Wilson had to get home and drink the memory of his long-dead brother out of his head.

On Writing

Writing is perhaps the lowest profession available to mankind. It causes the writer to not only examine the people, the place, the things around him, but it also forces the writer into self-examination each time he or she picks up the craft.
There is nothing like crawling around in the mud with yourself to learn that all human’s are, by their very nature of being born, dirty. The writer, on the otherhand, not only crawls in the mud, but eats the dirt so as to bring its grit and flavor to life on the page.

There was a Time

I’m old enough to recall using a rotary dial telephone, recording songs from a transistor radio onto a tape recorder – using cassette tapes, playing records on a mono three-speed portable record player, watching black and white television on a cathode ray tube TV and only three channels with aluminum foil on the rabbit ears and no remote controller, Instamatic and Polaroid cameras, a manual typewriter and driving a vehicle with a high/low headlight beam button on the floor, a three-speed transmission or anti-lock brakes. We didn’t have power steering, seat belts, answering machines, microwaves, video tape cassette recorders or the need for surge-protectors — but we did do a lot of playing outside — nearly everyday.
Lord, thanks for being so good to me…

The Census Taker

Paved in area’s while covered in gravel in others,  the road made for a less than smooth drive as Tad crossed Death Valley towards U.S. 395. It was a trip he’d made on several occasions while visiting friends in Victorville and Barstow.

A full, bright moon lit the edges of the mountains and high desert fields filled with rabbit brush and sage. Tad could also make out the roadway using only the low beams on his truck as he bounced along from one surface to the next.

As he steered around the corner one of the more winding parts of the road, he saw the lone figure of a man walking on the side of the road. Tad slowly stopped the truck and slip it into reverse.

In no time he reached the man, who had continued to march along the roadway, “Would you like a ride?”

The man stopped, “You know you shouldn’t pick up hitch-hikers, right?”

“Yeah, but you are hitch-hiking and I’m simply offering you a ride.”

“You’re right, so I accept.”

The man, older than Tad had first believed, sat in the passenger seat and buckled the belt around his waist and shoulder. Tad also noticed the man didn’t take the time to say ‘hello’ offer his name or even shake his hand, so Tad remained quiet as the pair headed towards highway.

After a few minutes, Tad couldn’t stand the silence, “What’s your name and why out after dark?”

“I was wondering when you’d ask – the named Unger Stand and I’m a Census Taker.”

“You did say ‘Unger’ and not ‘Under,’ right?”

“Yes.”

“That would’ve been kinda funny had your folks named you ‘Under’ but then I’m sure you thought of that before.”

For the first time the old man looked at Tad and smiled, “I didn’t know my parents.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Me and my big mouth.”

“No worries.”

A few minutes of awkward silence slipped between the driver and passenger, before Tad grew brave enough to ask another question: “So. You work for the federal government, huh?”

“Sort of. Many people think it’s a part of the government, but like most agencies, it really isn’t. My turn is coming up ahead.”

Unger pointed a well-weathered finger at the turn-off. “I live in that little cottage there, so I’ll get out now and bid you a goodnight, what is left of it, and my sincerest thank you for the ride.”

Tad took Unger’s offered hand. While shaking it, he noticed how the old man felt chilly even though the old truck’s heater was working well.

“I’ll wait until I see you go inside.”

Unger nodded, turned and walked to the little house. He opened the door, looked back with a wave and shut the door behind.

“What a weird old man,” Tad muttered as he pulled back onto the road.

Within the hour and traveling north on 395, Tad pulled into the only gas station for miles to fuel his truck. He went in and used the facilities and bought an extra-large cup of coffee as well.

Back onto the highway, he reached down and grabbed the cup of coffee. He noticed that though very hot, and with steam rising from it, he couldn’t feel any heat radiating from it.

“What the hell?” he mumbled as he took a sip.

Tad could neither smell the coffee’s aroma or taste it. In fact, the coffee seemed neither hot nor cold as he took in the liquid.

Slowing down, he dumped the coffee out onto the roadway and chucked the cup into the bed of his truck, “Must have been a bad brew or something.”

“Maybe some tune’s will help fight off my tired,” Tad thought as he reached for the radio.

However, nothing came from the speakers, not even the hissing of the airwaves in their silence. He rolled the knob through both the AM and FM bands over and over. Nothing but dead-silence.

As he continued on into the night, his fatigue grew and he had to pull off the road, “Maybe if I get out and walk around I’ll wake up – if not I can always catch a nap.”

Tad opened his door and started to get out, but he felt very weak and wobbly as he clutched the side of the truck and stumbled around to the back of the vehicle. He complained aloud as he slid to the ground, using the passenger rear tire as an aide, “Son of a bitch…”

He could do nothing but sit there and note how his eye-sight was now failing and the moonlit night disappeared into an abyss of endless dark. And finally, as his brain began shutting down, his last thought, “Did that old man say Census Taker or did he mean Senses Taker?”

The following morning, state road workers found Tad unresponsive, but with a heartbeat and called 9-1-1 for help.

Potty Mouth

It’s hard to take when the men simply walk away after completing their business. Sure, they did all they could for themselves, but what about me?

It’s like I don’t even exist in their mind; always in a hurry somewhere. When they leave, there’s often a dribble here or a dribble there, perhaps a piece of paper left to float. It seems they don’t care, but I find it disgusting.

If only I could speak instead of gurgle, I’d shout: “You need to flush your nasty turd! And damn it, put down the seat for the lady of the house!”

The Price of Vanity

Vanity being what it is, I spent $400 on a cellphone for my 1988 Hyundai, only to learn I couldn’t afford the service, so I spent my time driving around talking into a ‘dead’ cellphone. For $19.95, plus shipping and handling, I could have ordered a ‘dummy cellphone,’ and done the same thing.
Lesson: Anything that costs money will always costs more money.

Finding Joy

As a youngster, I used to want, want, want and as an old man, I still want, want, want. The difference is in not only what it is that I want now versus then – but how what I want brings me joy.

It has taken a life-time of frivolous consumption to figure out that I cannot buy ‘joy.’ For me, joy comes from watching the sun rise or set, seeing the first bud on a long dormant tree, snow fall in the mountains, a sudden rain-shower, neighborhood kids at play,  a Robin hunting for worms, or to simply watch a dog maw-down on a bone.

Shoot – a clean white tee-shirt, a pair of jeans, comfortable boots, a warm jacket, my camera, a notebook and my old pickup truck bring me joy. They’re the tools I use to explore and experience life – which also brings me joy.

We all need to find our joy – however each of us defines it. So, what is your joy?

Lost: One Can of Beer

You know the New Year’s Eve party next door must have been a good one when you find that random can of unopened beer in the gutter of your driveway.
That’s what happened to me this morning. I can’t make up my mind if I should return it to them, or play ‘finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers’ and drink the damned thing myself. Perhaps, now that the sun is up, I ought to go look and see if I can find some more.
There is an old rule to drinking beer: “You might have your favorite, but the best beer is always the other guys beer — because he bought it and you benefit.”