Digressions of a Dilettante

Digressions of a Dilettante
Vignettes of Inanity by Bud Hearn

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Leaving Some Bags Behind

She took one look at the headlines of the WSJ, pitched it on the table and announced, “Well, it’s all coming down.” She left the room, my wife, leaving me with her first proclamation of the day.

What,” I shouted, “the world?” Oftentimes the day would progress in direct proportion to her declarations. Maybe I’d married a clairvoyant. Women have that talent, you know. Their decrees usually find fulfillment…I’d learned slowly (and at times painfully) the truth behind this. I hastily picked up the paper to see if I could detect a clue for today’s prediction.

Then, her voice echoed from the other room, “No, the Christmas decorations. Get in here!” Whew, I thought, relieved that there was no imminent collision with a speeding meteorite, threat of a tsunami or crotch bomber aloft.

But a graph in the WSJ arrested my attention. Maybe it was the red line that looked as if it had free-fallen from the sky, body-slammed, bounced a couple of times and fibrillated. I remembered Hulk Hogan’s similar slam of the 700 pound Andre the Giant in years past. I read more.

The graph was entitled, “Vital Signs,” which brought to mind the sliver of tape from an EKG machine that showed my heart had stopped, but instantly recovered to its normal rhythmic pace. I keep it on my office desk, along with other useless but instructive paraphernalia and some art, to remind me that I’m only one heartbeat away from “the other side.” The diaphanous nude made from screen wire by an artist in the South Georgia swamps is continuously educational.

I studied the Consumer Confidence Index graph intently. There’s a Board for all government meddling, this one called The Confidence Board (its members women, I presume). It depicted national consumer attitudes. Pre-2007, it had fibrillated in a range slightly above 100, whatever that means, but had dropped precipitously to register a 25.3 on the scale in early 2009. It’s shown some life recently by rebounding into the 52 index level, clearly a long way from announcing that the patient is healthy enough to leave the ICU…so the toe tag remains. At least the patient is living, if you believe graphs or EKG’s.

Everything seems to be measured by consumer spending, or bank lending, as if these are the only measures of a nation’s health. The graph shows what any sane person knew (even without a wife!): that 2009 was a sorry excuse for 365 pretty good days. I doubt if many will hang out at the gravesite of 2009 and mourn its passing. I will be the first to kick a clod on the casket, seeing as my career in real estate has also died. I will find it poetic justice to have the last word: “Kiss Off!”

Truthfully, we’ve survived a pretty nasty year. I’m certain we’ll aspire for a more “normal” 2010…hey, to hell with the “New Normal” we hear! Slowly we seem to be emerging from the gloom of the cavern we’ve been holed up in. And what better time to come out than New Year’s Eve, now just hours away?

Which brings me to a thought about the bags I took into my cave in 2007. As I haul ‘em out into the sunlight, I can’t believe I toted such crap around for so long. These bags are far too heavy to tote into 2010, and I intend to lighten them. It can be done, you know…we all have accumulated too much surplus of The American Dream.

Photographs show many Ellis Island immigrants arriving with only the clothes on their backs…they left the old behind. It reminded me when we used to pack the jeep for a weekend in the mountains with every known comfort of home. Later, we found it possible to stuff enough essentials in a 40 pound backpack to survive for weeks.

Along with Forest Gump, we got cracked out on running. We discovered it was possible to run a 20 mile trail segment all but naked, in shorts and a tee, hauling only a small water bottle. Soon 20 miles got easy, so we moved it to 35, then to 50. It’s amazing how little we needed…or how obsessive we became!

All this to suggest that as we emerge from our gloom of 2009, it’s a good time to lighten the load…old memories, grudges, disappointments, failures and other such clutter, and get on with renewing The American Dream. William Least Heat-Moon had it right…to be energized, “live the real jeopardy of circumstance.”

Yes, “it’s all coming down,” the curtain on 2009. As we leap into the future of 2010, let’s leave the useless behind. Buy the ticket, take the ride! And be proud to be an American!

Get in here!” she screamed. “Yes, dear.” Some things never change!

Happy New Year

Bud Hearn
December 30, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Incident on Norwich Street

The day was sunless, raw and cold, uncommon for January. A late afternoon fog, dull-gray, crept slowly in from the East River, shrouding in mist the ramshackled row houses and small shops on this derelict section of Norwich Street. A man stopped in front of the storefront, hesitated nervously, shuffled, turned to withdraw, turned again and entered Seymour’s Pawn Shop.

A single light hanging from the ceiling burned dimly. An antique ceiling fan stirred the musty air, adding to the man’s gloom. Removing his damp wool cap, he strolled slowly to the glass counter containing a myriad array of pistols, knives, brass knuckles and other malicious weapons for human mayhem, items that had been pawned for quick, Saturday-night money. They had not been redeemed and remained as a witness to the harsh and usurious lending policies of the shop’s proprietor. They were now for sale.

“Do you have the money today?” Seymour’s voice was shrill, harsh like the outside wind chill, and he shuddered. “You know the deal we made, right?” The man knew. It had been a deal with the devil, but he’d had no choice. He faced foreclosure, and his options were limited. Seymour had been his last one. While he still occupied the house, Seymour held the mortgage deed…and worse, his hasty pledge of something far more precious.

The winter shrimp harvest had been abysmal. Money was in short supply for all fishermen. But then one man’s pain is another’s gain, and Seymour profited on the backs of misfortune with pay-day loans. “No sir, not all of it, and I was wondering if…” Seymour cut him off in mid sentence, “No excuses, today’s the day, that was our deal, and a deal is a deal. I’ve kept my end, now you keep yours.”

I know,” the man said, his eyes glazing while looking at the raw planked floor. “But…”

“No buts. I told you last week, pay up or else.”

Hearing the “or else” sent a cold shiver down the man’s spine. What could he do? He didn’t have the money, and he had no immediate hope for it. His choices were stark: either lose the house or honor the promise of having pledged his 18-year old daughter to be Seymour’s wife. Was the house worth that? He recoiled in horror at the thought.

He had never intended for this pledge to be called. But when a man’s blood boils, the soul lends his tongue prodigal vows. With foreclosure imminent, the consequences were grim. He pleaded, “Shrimping has never let me down, please give me a little…”, but he never finished the sentence. From Seymour’s thin lips came a cold sneer and a scornful interjection, “No sir, no more time…it’s the money or the girl if you want the mortgage back. No more excuses. Your choice.” The man’s heart plunged while the dark night descended upon the two men who stood, eyeball to eyeball, negotiating the Faustian bargain in the dimly-lit den of men’s misery. The man lost. Dejected, he sadly retreated into the deserted streets, Seymour’s last words ringing in his ears, “No delays, ya hear?”

She was 18, just turned, tall with long hair, golden like the vast marshes that lined the Southern coast. She was set to graduate in May and pursue horticulture. Her special love was roses, and Seymour had seen her often after school and on most Saturdays. With greedy eyes he would watch her as she strolled carefree along the cracked sidewalk in her floral print dresses, carrying with her the dreams of her future. Little did she know then how her future would unfold.

Next to Seymour’s Pawn Shop, nestled in a manicured rose garden, stood a tiny pastel-colored cottage that was both the home and the business of its owner. The sign read, Roses by Edward. The girl worked there, carefully tending the arbors and trellises and delivering colorful arrangements. What a wife she’d be, Seymour thought, manufacturing fantasies and licentious scenarios as he gazed lustily at her. Now in his late fifties, he knew that was unlikely. Yet as things sometimes work out, possibility overcame probability the day the man walked into the pawn shop. Seymour’s life changed forever that day. So did the life of the girl.

Later that evening the man called the family together, explaining the sorrowful outcome of the day’s bargain. There was a stunned silence as the consequence sunk in. “What in the world were you thinking, you fool, to make such an awful arrangement with that sleazy Seymour. What gave you the right to trade our daughter’s future for this house?” his wife lamented. “Never, dad, never,” his daughter screamed as she fled the room in tears.

“But I signed a pledge, gave my word,” he said. His distress showed in the craggy face of a seaman in the glow of the reflected light. “We still have a little time, maybe something…,” he said, trailing off more as a question than a statement. “I’ll try again tomorrow to persuade Seymour to back off,” he promised. He did, but Seymour’s retort was as terse as before, “We made a deal. Now I only want the girl, you can keep the house. Y’all set the date. She’s going to marry me.”

The man and his wife procrastinated, promising a date that never came. Day after day the girl continued to pass the pawn shop, working in the rose garden next door. Weeks went by and spring came, while Seymour stewed in his lechery for the girl. Her very walk past his shop taunted him, inflamed his ardor, and he vowed to marry her or else. In his carnal cravings for the girl, the mortgage laid forgotten, gathering dust and accrued interest among the others in his safe. He’d lost all interest in anything but having the girl as his wife.

But obsessions often flame out of control. Seymour’s did.

It had been a sultry day in late May. She and Edward worked late that evening in the cottage next door. Seymour also stayed late, but for another reason. His ledgers could wait. Bitter in his desire for the girl, he slipped out of the rear door of his shop into the darkness. He lit a large sliver of lighter knot, a portion of a pine stump ripe with turpentine and flung it beneath the cottage. In a matter of minutes the wooden cottage was engulfed in flames. The shadows made no sound as Seymour slinked silently into the obscurity of the night, avenged in the unrequited payment of the man’s pledge.

The fire was intense, turning the evening sky into orange. Little could be done to contain the blaze. The cottage burned into hot ashes, the embers mixing with the sandy loess below. The rose shrubs in the garden lost their blooms in the intensity of the heat and remained leafless. In the morning the heat had abated. An inspection was made as to the cause of the fire. The ashes were sorted and sifted, but there was no sign of human remains, nor could the cause of the incident be determined.

“Well, Sheriff,” the Coroner said, “looks like we have an inconclusive case here. No detectible body, or bodies, no way to determine the cause. Accident, you think?”

“Hard to say, Gene. Tell the boys to get Seymour down here, maybe he saw or heard something. He’s a sneaky sort anyway
.” Soon Seymour arrived. “Say, Seymour, what can you tell me about this here fire?” the Sheriff said. “Not much,” Seymour said. “All I saw was Edward and the girl in there when I closed shop and went home. You knew we were to be married, right?”

Yeah, I heard that. What did you have on her daddy, Seymour? No way would she have married you on her own”

Me and her daddy had a deal, Sheriff, that’s all, but it didn’t work out. That’s all I can say.” The Sheriff shook his head, turned and left. Seymour stood alone, staring into the ashen ruins of the place.

Weeks turned into months. Often Seymour could be seen standing in front of the charred ruins in the late afternoons, gazing at the rose bushes, the blackened trellises. At his feet the wind swirled the ashes into small, gray piles. Pity, he thought, such a waste. All the while no blooms ever came upon the arbors, and the lot became overgrown with weeds and strewn with garbage. The Sheriff had archived the incident to the “cold cases” department. Life returned to normal on Norwich Street. But not for Seymour.

Spurned in his desire for marriage, life became more intolerable for Seymour day by day. The man had come in one day and redeemed the mortgage, paying the exorbitant interest and retaining his home. The man seemed happy for some reason Seymour could not understand. Did the man have no remorse for his missing daughter? Did he know something he was not saying? The questions tormented Seymour night after night. Sleep eluded him as mental images of the girl, strolling in front of his shop, tortured him. All the while the scorched arbors remained without blooms, a mocking reminder of the crime he’d committed.

In the early morning hours of a late summer night, Seymour could no longer suffer the persecution by his dreams. With an axe in hand, he determined to destroy the remaining reminders of Roses by Edward…the bloomless plants. Enraged by passion, he entered the darkened and vacant lot of what was once Edward’s rose garden and cottage. The rank smell of charred ashes reeked in the humid air as Seymour carried out his catharsis.

The telephone rang early in the Sheriff’s office. “Sheriff, you better get over here to the burnt cottage on Norwich Street. Something strange is going on,” the voice said. With steam rising from their coffee mugs, the Sheriff and Coroner stood looking in mystified amazement at the lifeless, mangled body of Seymour. Still clutching the axe, his lacerated body lay upon the scorched ashes, entangled interminably among the vines and thorns of a Blaze of Glory climbing rose. Upon the blackened trellises brilliant red blooms exploded in a profuse display of beauty, their fallen petals mingling with the dried blood of the mutilated pawn broker.

“Sheriff, look at all those rose bushes…why, they haven’t bloomed in months. I walk this patrol every day.” the deputy said. “Strange, don’t you think, that they would all bloom overnight? Just look at them climbing roses. Have you ever seen so many flowers?” The Sheriff shook his head, shrugged, puzzled. Was this a crime scene? He wondered.

Yeah, Lester, real strange for sure. What do you make of it, Gene?” he asked the Coroner. “Hard to figure, Sheriff, but if I didn’t know better, I’d say it looks like the roses claimed a victim and got revenge. We may never know,” he said.”

“Maybe. Lester, dust off that cold case file and see if we can make something out of it. The newspaper will want a comment.”

San Francisco is beautiful beyond belief in late summer. Early morning mists and fogs waft slowly through the city, and it glistens like diamonds in the morning sunrises. Perched high above the Presidio, Pacific Heights is home to quant shops, artists, coffee houses and boutiques.

Today a young woman in a floral print dress unhurriedly strolls through an arbor and up the steps of a small, pastel-blue cottage, itself surrounded by High Society climber roses in full bloom. The sign on the door reads, Roses by Edward…

Bud Hearn
December 28, 2009

The Incident On Norwich Street (Flash Fiction)

(Flash Fiction Version)

The day was sunless, raw and cold. A late afternoon fog, dull-gray, crept slowly in from the East River, shrouding the ramshackled row houses and small shops on this derelict section of Norwich Street. A man stopped in front of a storefront, hesitated, then entered Seymour’s Pawn Shop.

A single light hung from a mildewed ceiling. It cast a dim reflection on a glass counter containing myriad numbers of items pawned for quick, Saturday-night money. They remained unredeemed. Nothing moved.

The man strolled slowly to the dusty desk in the rear. “Do you have the money?” Seymour’s voice was shrill, harsh. The man shuddered. “You know the deal, right?” He knew. It had been a deal with the devil, and Seymour was his last option. He was tight for cash, faced foreclosure, so he pawned the house…and worse, made another hasty pledge of something far more precious.

Shrimping had not paid the bills. But then one man’s pain is another’s gain. “No, sir, not all of it, I wondered if…,” Seymour cut him off. “No excuses.” Stunned, the man said, “I know, but…” Steely eyes stared back, “No buts. Pay up or else.”

The man shivered at the sound of “or else.” He was caught between two grim choices: lose the house or persuade his only daughter to be Seymour’s wife. In silence he looked at the raw plank floor, wondering. Was the house worth that? “Please give me until…” From Seymour’s thin lips came a cold sneer, “No sir…the money or the girl. Your choice.”

The dark night descended as two men negotiated a Faustian bargain in this dimly-lit den of misery. The man lost. Sadly he retreated into the deserted streets, Seymour’s last words ringing in his ears, “No more delays.”

She was 18, soon to graduate and pursue horticulture. She loved roses. With greedy eyes Seymour watched her often as she strolled carefree with her dreams along the cracked sidewalk in her floral print dresses. Nestled in a manicured rose garden next door was a tiny pastel-blue cottage. It was the home and business of its owner. The sign read, Roses by Edward. She worked there, and she loved Edward.

Seymour, now in his fifties, would think, “What a wife she’d be.” But he knew it to be unlikely. Yet possibility overcame probability when the man walked into his shop, needing money. Like a knife Seymour held the man’s pledge to his throat. So obsessive was his desire now for the girl he’d lost all interest in the mortgage deed.

But the man and his wife procrastinated, promising but not delivering the pledged girl. Dates came, went, and now Spring. The girl continued to pass the pawn shop, working next door. Her very walk taunted Seymour, inflaming his ardor as he stewed in his obsessive lechery for her.

But obsessions often flame out of control. Seymour’s did.

On a sultry evening in late May the girl and Edward worked late in the cottage. Seymour also worked late, but for another reason. Bitter in his desire for the girl, and in a rage of jealousy, he slipped out of his shop into the darkness. He flung a lighted torch beneath the cottage. In minutes the wooden cottage was engulfed in flames. Seymour slinked silently into the shadows, avenged for the unrequited payment of the man’s pledge.

The cottage burned into hot ashes, scorching the garden roses and trellises. An inspection was made later as to the cause, but there was no sign of human remains, nor could the cause be determined. It was placed in the cold-case files.

Weeks turned into months. Seymour often stood gazing into the charred ruins of his passion. The girl and Edward had vanished. What a waste, he thought, as life returned to normal on Norwich Street. But not for Seymour.

Spurned in his desire for the girl, life had become intolerable for Seymour. The man had come in, redeemed the mortgage and seemed happy for some reason Seymour could not understand. Unresolved questions tormented Seymour nightly. Sleep eluded him as mental images of the girl tortured him in dreams. All the while, next door, the rose shrubs remained without blooms, a mocking reminder of his crime.

In the early morning hours of a late summer night, Seymour, with axe in hand, entered the ash-strewn ruins of the cottage. He was determined to destroy the reminders of Roses by Edward…the blossomless plants. The rotten smell of charred ashes reeked in the humid air as he carried out his catharsis.

The telephone rang early in the Sheriff’s office. The voice said, “Sheriff, better get over here to the burnt cottage on Norwich Street.” Soon he and the Coroner stood looking in shocked amazement at the lifeless, mangled body of Seymour. Still clutching his axe, his lacerated body laid entangled among the vines of a Blaze of Glory climber rose. Brilliant red blooms exploded in a profuse display, mingling with the dried blood of the mutilated pawn broker.

What do you make of it,” the Coroner asked. The Sheriff replied, “Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say the roses got revenge,” shaking his head, puzzled. Was this a crime? He wondered.

San Francisco is beautiful in late summer. Early morning mists waft slowly through the city, and it glistens like diamonds in the morning sunrises. Perched high above the Presidio, Pacific Heights is home to quaint shops, coffee houses and boutiques.

Today a young woman in a floral print dress unhurriedly strolls through an arbor into a pastel-blue cottage, surrounded by roses in full bloom. The sign on the door reads, Roses by Edward….

Bud Hearn
December 28, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy"

A Christmas Trilogy, Part III

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah 9:2

It was mostly quiet around the house Tuesday. The hectic activity was winding down. The onslaught of catalogues had ceased. Print had morphed into digital solicitations. The phone was silent. Christmas was nigh.

The Blackberry on the table vibrated. The Smithfield Ham Co. announced, “Last Chance to get your smoked pig.” Following closely, offering free delivery for print cartridges, was the Hewlett-Packard supplication, “Act Today!” The delete button responded.

Through the window sunbeams cast a sunset refraction on a bloated stack of bills that occupied a disproportionate portion of the desk. I wondered about the good tidings they proclaimed. I already knew. I imagined them spontaneously bursting into flames. I thought, “Now, that’d be real comfort and joy.” Sadly they reappeared, evidences of a shopper out of control.

I tried to flesh out this concept of “good tidings of comfort and joy,” how it might appear in reality. I wondered. Star-gazing shepherds once wondered, too. But I got nowhere. The subconscious resurrected a T. S. Eliot poem, “The Hollow Men.” He mused, “Between the Idea and the Reality falls the Shadow.” I thought of the Twilight Zone. Weird.

With three days until the Idea becomes this year’s Reality, many have fallen into the shadow of manic last-minute shoppers, that frantic genre who have succumbed to the eleventh-hour urgency to spend themselves into more poverty. Is this the essence of Christmas?

At lunch I overheard a husband tell his wife, “OK, here’s my last $30…see how far it’ll take us.” Grabbing the money from his hands, she leapt from the table, exclaiming, “I’ll be at Wal-Mart.” He looked nauseous and stared at his uneaten chicken. Was he thinking “good tidings of comfort and joy?” I don’t think so.

In our haste, the essence of Christmas has become vague. Bound by tradition, consumed by commercialism, we rush about in the shadow of preparation. We ignore the nobler aspects of the Christmas season which “good tidings of comfort and joy” proclaim. Do we even believe this concept?

I tried, but the secret of this Biblical concept of comfort and joy eluded me, falling into multiple shadows within the Shadow. It was a ghost I couldn’t grasp. I thought long and hard. Finally I let go, thinking, “It’ll just have to find me!”

This year we decided to show a little constraint and purchased a 5 foot Christmas tree. We sat it atop a long, tall table. It appeared to be very tall, but in reality it was small. It was much easier to handle than the 14 foot trees we had in the past, and a pleasure to decorate…ah, comfort and joy. Being small, lighting it was easy, no spousal disagreements…more comfort and joy. It appeared as one single lighted evergreen, glowing resplendently in the darkness. Our best tree yet, we agreed…comfort and joy.

Today I crawled out of bed at 5:00 AM. There are few distractions in the strong, silent hours of the early morning. Even the dogs remained asleep. With a cup of coffee, I sat surrounded by total darkness, except for the lighted Christmas tree. Thoughts of thanksgiving kept circulating in my mind, remembrances of friends, of family Christmases, blessings of life, of comfort and joy. Wait…wasn’t that what I had been searching for? It had found me!

The essence of Christmas has many points of light. When frenetic activity ceases, then we can focus on the points of light that best represent the essence of Christmas to us personally. Sitting in the comfort of home the Essence became less the Shadow and more the Reality. The “bones” of the concept of comfort and joy took on flesh and came to life.

On Friday, as Christmas morning dawns upon us, the Idea will again become Reality, and the Shadow will fade into the Light of a new day. But the Christmas Reality is just the birth of another Idea, awaiting its own Reality. The miracle of Scripture, “…and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” will again live.

Today, as the sunrise drove back the darkness, the house became alive again. I remembered the verse, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Comfort and joy? Ours for the receiving! Perhaps it’s fitting that today we join with the “merry gentlemen of yore” as they sang, “…O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O, tidings of comfort and joy.”

Merry Christmas to you all.

Bud Hearn
December 23, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Letter To Santa

A Christmas Trilogy, Part II

Some say, ‘Seeing is Believing’…but I say, ‘Believing is Seeing.’”
Dewitt Jones, Photographer, National Geographic Magazine

Santa Claus
North Pole

Dear Santa

I hardly know where to start, much less what to say. It’s been a long time since you’ve had a letter from me. Do you remember when? I do. It was 1950. I was 8, going on 9, and I’d accused you of being a fraud, a trickster of children, running a con scheme up there, or at least working illegal immigrant elves without green cards. Remember? I was dumb then, but I’ve wised up.

My apology will seem hollow…what could I plead? Not enough time, too busy? You’ve heard all that, so I won’t bother. Besides, I know you’re busier than ever, so many requests, so little time. But I am concerned that global warming is melting your headquarters. A fellow named Gore said so. Between you and me, I hope you ignore his letters…association with him would damage your reputation, believe me.

I get teary when remembering the many letters I sent to you years ago. In those days my brother and I, and our friends, would try to figure out just how you could make all those toys and deliver them all on one night. Since our house had no chimney, we wondered how you’d get in. Somehow you managed, because the milk and cookies were missing in the morning. How did you do that? We never figured it out.

I remember the letter I sent asking for a red bike. I can’t imagine how you got it into the house, but there it stood…I believed then, ‘cause seeing is believing to a kid. I admit I can’t recall everything I ever asked for, especially things like clothes. Somehow you knew my exact size, because they always fit.

Do you remember the set of tiny trucks, tractors and cars you left once? Why, we became engineers and road builders in the grit of our back yard, constructing small freeways, building small, stick cities to visit. We believed we were travelers, visiting places of excitement far beyond our small hick town. Guess what? It came to pass. But you knew it would, didn’t you?

Remember the Daisy lever-action BB rifles you gave us? And all the toy soldiers? We became warriors, real and imagined (well, I shot a few sparrows, anyway…I mourn for those fallen creatures to this day!). Once we played “real” army, drew sides, fought battles. Our parents took us to the woodshed for it. Remember those “harmless” pea shooters? Why, small boys can fashion everything into some kind a weapon. We amused ourselves for weeks in the movie theater before the proprietor body-searched us and confiscated our artillery.

What about the chemistry sets? The house reeked of sulfur for weeks. Don’t forget the erector kits, the parts of which were sucked up by the vacuum, causing great consternation with Mom. Or the Monopoly game…we were all entrepreneurs, and some of us pretend to be today. Space limits my recalling the model airplanes, which never lasted long. Yet I became a pilot some years later.

We really believed when you trusted us with large boxes of fireworks…no directions, no warnings, no rules. We were left to our own devices for entertainment. Everything was fair game with cherry bombs. Empty cans sailed high into the air, mailboxes blew apart, fence posts were shattered and roadside TNT bombs rocked passing cars. We once set the sedge field behind our house on fire with roman candles. Worse than the whipping we got, our bamboo fort was burned to the ground.

But back to the purpose of this letter. Age has enlightened me about the mystique of Christmas, of a jolly man in a red outfit, 8 reindeer and a tiny sleigh filled with toys for “good boys and girls.” It’s a time of great expectation, of anticipation, of surprises…and endless discussions of just Who you are and How you always knew what we wanted and needed. “Believing is receiving” we were told. Somehow, in spite of our doubt, it all came to pass. Santa, we need a renewal of that spirit!

The years passed…we played while the toys got larger; we grew up and moved on, made our own money. We forgot about you, but thankfully you did not forget about us. So, this letter is to thank you for your faithfulness. While we still don’t totally understand it, yet we believe it… faith may be the miracle of Christmas.

Next week children young and old will again attempt to resolve the enigma of which is the better truth of Christmas ---”Seeing is Believing, or Believing is Seeing?” Convince us all again, Santa…and keep eating the cookies!

Repentantly yours,

Bud Hearn
December 17, 2009

PS: No wish list is attached. Just a simple “Thanks” for continuing to infuse us with the joy of giving and the renewal of the Spirit of Christmas, and for always showing up. FYI, you remind me of Someone I know whose name is Jesus…are you related?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Robbery at Neiman's

A Christmas Trilogy, Part I

I stood outside of Neiman’s at Atlanta’s Lenox Square Mall, looking at The Blue Corset Co., a dark, den-looking boutique. White marble manikins clothed in seductive hot pink and black lace dominated the plate glass windows. Outside a gathering of men stood and stared, gawking, wishing…..With vacuous eyes the lifeless manikin sirens gazed with disinterest at the impotent dreamers.

I moved on. Neiman’s was offering “bonus points” for purchases, and I figured I’d have better luck in the Gucci shoe department than The Corset Co. Unfortunately, Santa was on back-order for the shoes of my choice. Not to disappoint my wife for something from Neiman Markup, I moved on towards the Jewelry department.

Then things got interesting. Passing the St. John collection, I noticed a shadow following me. Being insecure shoppers, men linger, casually touching the merchandise, pretending. The clerks know this ruse and usually ignore them. But not tonight. The shadow spoke, “Sir, may I have a word with you? I’m the floor manager. We have a store policy that affects older men like you.” I asked, “What policy? I have money, what other policy is there?” He was stern, and said, “Esthetics, sir... Please follow me.”

I was ushered to the cosmetic counter. Gocha, the blonde Polish Esthetician, was instructed to perform magic with a facial makeover, to conform my antiquity to the store’s policy. “Is this normal?,” I asked her. “Of course,” she answered, “and I can make you acceptable for all departments. Then they’ll gladly take your money, if you have any left when I finish.” I noticed no facial difference, although my wallet no longer bulged. Now acceptable, I was free to shop. I walked on towards the jewelry department.

Enroute to the jewels, one passes through Men’s Wear. I filtered through the cheap shirt rack, then the expensive one. “Sir, please refrain from touching the shirts with unwashed hands,” the voice shouted. A small Jewish man, perhaps schooled in the Torah, rushed over to me and jerked the shirt from my unwashed hands. “We have a policy, ‘Look, Don’t Touch.’” Who was I to argue with policy? I moved on.

It’s helpful to know store protocol. As one moves around, it’s easy to notice the “boundary” lines separating each department. Plush, colorful carpet and floral rugs demarcate the departments, and clerks are apparently confined to their particular boundaries. But as soon as one crosses from the marble walkways onto their turf, they’re fair game for a vicious sales experience. Moving from the carpet, it ends. It helps to know these things for self-protection.

I moved on, once stopping and spraying myself with Prada L’Eau de Toilette at $165 per oz. “Stop that waste,” a shrill voice screamed. I fled into the Fab-Finds department, where my hands found an Heirloom Bible, the “family treasure” it said, with a crass brass cross and Czech crystals, a mere $250. No wonder Gideon at $5.95 has the motel franchises.

In the handbag department Gucci and Prada competed for attention in the shadow of Chanel. No one was winning. If the Chanel “street-tote” bag at $1,995 was an example of the costs, I knew why there were no customers. Neither was I. But the Judith Leber “evening-out art” handbags of Austrian crystals and colorful designs of Camels and Elephants were exquisite. Cost, $5,995. What shmuck would buy that for his wife? I moved on.

The basement held many treasures, one particularly interesting…a crystal Buddha, sitting, smiling. At $600, he was laughing at the dumb Schmoe looking at him. Wait, that’s me! I retreated.

It went on and on, this madness of merchandise and contagion of costs. It made one wonder just what percentage of the take Santa had made with these merchants. Had the world gone mad? Was there no recession?

With only three shadows now following me, I finally made it to the jewelry department, which was guarded by a squad of Uzi-toting goons. I refused to cross onto their turf, thinking maybe I’d stroll on down to the cheap knockoff shop in the mall.

As I passed The Blue Corset Company, a crowd of men in serious need of facial makeovers drooled at the changing of the manikins. I could only imagine what these men wished for in their letters to Santa. I knew what mine said!

Bud Hearn
December 10, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Standing By Your Man

Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to and something warm to come to when nights are cold and lonely…” Tammy Wynette

Lying among the glass shards on the floor of the Cadillac Escalade was a book entitled, “Get a Grip On Physics.” Apparently the two arms that once held her man had a pretty firm grip on what appeared to be a # 8 iron. And physics, being what it is, took over from there, as the car careened through a neighbor’s yard, violating the neighbor’s bushes and hedges, destroying a fire hydrant and coming to its final rest against a tree.

She sprinted through the rough, finding her man sprawled in the bushes, bleeding, moaning and complaining of the “double-cross” shot. Whereupon, as yet unreported by the media, the woman got proper “alignment” and teed off anew, apparently mistaking the man’s head for the women’s tee. Of course, it was 2:00 AM, and the woman, a blonde, had a very high handicap and was inexperienced in the “bare lie” shot, her husband’s favorite. Therefore, she took several mulligans as she made her way through the “hazards” to the green.

What green could she have possibly been heading to at this hour? Why, the green of the $90 million annual endorsements being received by her man from corporate sponsors of golfer gods. And the man was such a god.

Skilled in foursome play, the golfer god specialized in the knock-down shot, using an open face driver for proper alignment to keep the ball in play and from out of bounds. Some complained he had been offered too many “gimmes” that accounted for so many Aces on (and off) the course. Pure speculation.

But what is not now speculation is the aftermath of settling these late-night golf scores. Of course, the only right and proper course is to take a man’s age-old excuse of denial, denial, denial of all Cupidity (oops, culpability)…except for the cell texts that made air shots out of the stroke. What’s left? Why, confessing to the overused excuse of “transgressions.” (A new golf term?) With that he joins a long list of other gods of sports, politics and celebrity status captured in similar situations.

The drama continues to unfold, distracting our attention from Congress…some blame Obama for the distraction…follow the money!

At our dinner table last night, the short fellow from Georgia Tech blurted out that it was the woman’s fault….claimed the wife was not “meeting his needs.” The table fell silent. Before the subject could be changed, his wife, a demure lady, grabbed him by the neck and shouted, “If I’d heard such a comment from your lips earlier in life, you’d have been childless forever!” The entire restaurant fell silent at that outburst. Dinner went downhill from there. The Tech man shrank into his chair, sorta like the whole Tech campus did after last Saturday’s game.

But who is to blame for this “transgression,’” this tainting of a public icon? Not the god himself, for he came out swinging his club, claiming “private sins need no public confession.” While it has been reported only in hushed whispers, Nike has disavowed the backspin liability by claiming its logo, “Just Do It, ” was misinterpreted.

PepsiCo, another sponsor, may have contributed with corporate slogans, like: “Why You Doggin’ Me?, Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff” and “Gotta Have More.” Or take the Gatorade Tiger, which boasts “Sport is what you make it.” No one recalls which the golfer god was muttering when he was found, although one witness said he did hear something about a “bump and run shot.” He refused further commentary.

The whole sorry mess will probably never be solved, and voyeuristic golfing idolaters will debate the issue ad nauseam. I would only offer up a simple definition of one of a golfer’s bag of tricks (excuse me, “sticks”), the venerable wood driver: “A type of club where the head is generally bulbous in shape—so named because the head was usually made of wood.”

Maybe Tammy was married to a golfer once, and sums it up best in these words: “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, giving all your love to just one man. You’ll have bad times, he’ll have good times, doing things that you don’t understand…stand by your man.”

May I leave you with this thought? Be careful of the god you stand by and be sure HE does not have feet of clay. But what do I know? I don’t even play golf!

Bud Hearn
December 3, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Harvest Homecoming

“There’s nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor…that it was from the hand of God.” Ecclesiastes 2:24

Thanksgiving…the very concept conjures up an evocative nostalgia. A silent bell tolls in our hearts, reviving the infused pilgrim spirit inherited from the Plymouth Plantation. Tradition is removed from the closet and dusted off in anticipation of another year of family togetherness.

Soon the vast dispersion will begin, that obligatory migration for millions of families making a pilgrimage. Expressways and airports will be clogged, folks in a hurry, tempers short, children exhausted, courtesies abandoned. With luck they will arrive, this swarm of family locusts, descending on the old home place with one thought in mind: The Thanksgiving Dinner!

The year’s final harvest is in. Not that most have any sweat equity in it. Why toil? Now it’s too easy to purchase the fruits of another’s labor. In fact, harvests today bear little resemblance to harvests of a bygone era. Few remain who recall the days when mules were tractors, the days of smokehouse hams and sausages, the days of syrup-making and pumpkin gathering---days when the air was crisp, the grass frosty…days before irrigation, genetic seed engineering and perennially imported harvests.

Former harvests were unpredictable, subject to whims of nature, caterpillars and rife with the sweat of hard labor. In those days serious supplications were made for Divine favor, unlike the easy platitudes now uttered. Today the term “harvest” has lost its strength. Our hands, soft without blisters, give us away. Cash is our reaping scythe.

At the Plymouth Plantation, 1621, the harvest was hard-earned from the hardscrabble earth. The community pooled their resources and labor to eke out a living. “Thanksgiving” meant gratitude then! Plus, it was not secular like the multitude of pagan harvest festivals. It was a genuine thanksgiving to the Creator for the land’s bounty. Imagine yourself at this first Puritan Thanksgiving.

Honey, get up, light the fire, get out of the kitchen and do your hunting thing... and don’t come back here without a turkey or smelling like beer,” the woman said. “And on your way out shake the kids…I need more fire wood. Now!” Women ruled the roost then, as now, on Thanksgiving. Men fled the kitchens. Candles flickered in the homes of the small plantation as the day dawned and preparation was made for the harvest celebration. The community was alive with jubilation, and scents of cooking food wafted in the cold November air. Laughter echoed as men passed around jugs of cider by the village fires. Football had yet to be invented.

Even the indigenous savages showed up, bearing an abundance of turnips, corn and fish. By noon the village was assembled, thanks given to the Almighty for the bounty of another year, and the feast began. Somehow feasts are more enjoyable with a crowd.

Yet most are indifferent to the idea of a communal Thanksgiving. Churches and charities do their best to feed the hungry, but it represents only the essence of the communal spirit. We are a nation of individuals, gathering with friends and family in smaller assemblages. We are segregated from the egalitarian life of our communities, and as a consequence we fail to reap their intrinsic strengths.

Notwithstanding, it remains a warm celebration of congeniality and reunion, and a time of remembrance. Yes, to remember the “old days,” to remember the ones who have passed on, those who have moved on and those who remain. And a remembrance of happy times, to laugh, and maybe even cry a little.

Thanksgiving would be incomplete without the often comedic dysfunctional aspects of family homecomings. After a few days of “catching up,” and with everyone sick of turkey and dressing, and often each other, the party breaks up and the crowd heads home.

With packed cars, abundant hugs and a few turkey sandwiches to go, the weary pilgrims depart and join the returning throngs, cursing the traffic and vowing never to do it again…until next year, that is.

Next year has arrived, and the Tradition of Thanksgiving is alive again in our hearts. Yes, another Thanksgiving Harvest in our Land of Freedom…and all that a gift from the Beneficent Hand of God. Remember that…and remember to thank the turkey for giving its last, full measure of devotion !

Bud Hearn
November 19, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Choking on a Bone

“I’m diggin’ up bones…exhuming things that’s better left alone…Yeah, tonight I’m sitting alone diggin’ up bones.” Randy Travis

It wasn’t a big bone, but it cost $150 and got hung up in my craw for two weeks. I had hoped to dislodge it somehow, but it just hung there in suspended animation, making life miserable.

It was a very common bone, one called a “bone of contention.” You’ve had ‘em, right? When it happens, we quickly find someone, or something, to blame, whereupon we resurrect that so-called “bone-to-pick” cliché, justifying ourselves but polluting our life.

Since blame for the bone is elsewhere, I found two perpetrators to persecute. (Well, I guess if I were honest, I might admit some fault. At least I was the one who was choking on the bone.) I even began to write my obituary, certain that this bone would finish me off for good. Here’s how it happened.

It was a dark, rainy day in the city. I was ready to head to the coast, to escape the “rap and hip-hop Mecca.” My sleep had been fractured, dream-induced, quite possibly from the garlic overload I’d had the evening before. I packed my bag, spun the cylinder of the pearl-handled S & W Special 38 calibre pistol and shoved it in my belt (Americans are armed to the teeth, you know). An orange sticker was pasted on the car window, “This Car has been Immobilized.” The two yellow boots stared in mocking scorn, “Gotcha, you idiot…park where you should!”

The car had been “booted” in the apartment complex of my Atlanta residence. I called and soon the “technician” showed up, saying, “Sir, that’ll be $150.” No amount of argument would convince this fellow of my rights as a tenant…it seemed I had parked one space from my assigned space. Small mistake. Now, let me say, no one knows the amount of rage or violent behavior possible in a normally humble human such as I. Read on.

I stepped back, advising the man to remain in his vehicle, which was also soon to be immobilized. The 38 held six rounds, one empty chamber, one for each tire, and the last one for the man if he stepped out. With vindictive glee I fired a round into each of the four tires on his vehicle, and with a swoosh it sank onto the concrete. I blew the smoke from the barrel. The man remained silent, in shock, frozen.

Now, pal, get out, remove those boots from my car…I have one round left, a lead-tipped hollow point with your name on it. While my 38 is not a Dirty Harry 40 calibre, it’s heavy-duty enough to make your day special, or, at your option, end it,” I said. He obeyed. When the boots were removed, he fled, along with my $150. That’s when I choked on the bone. “I want my money back, you swine,” I shouted to no avail. Sirens wailed, nearer. I sped away.

Suddenly I woke from that wild dream. What was I thinking? Would I have done this, and for $150? Possibly. But thankfully that part was only a dream. The bone remained lodged in its place.

I pleaded innocence to the apartment manager, who verbally assaulted the owner of the booting company (women managers are expert in this!), who promised to return my money. Days passed, no money came. The bone got larger. I continued to pester the owner and the property manager, reminding them I had rights and the possibility of violence if I didn’t get my money back. “It’s in the mail,” was the repetitious retort. The mail never showed, and my bone grew.

I sought advice from others. “Forget it, move on,” some said. Others, “Forgive.” Some rationalized, “Maybe the owner’s mother was dying and he needed the money.” Advice failed, the bone remained. Finally, with one desperate plea to the manager, I owned up that we all shared blame: the apartment for improperly marking the spaces, the booter for not recognizing my parking permit and me for parking one space from the designated space.

Funny thing about confession…the bone instantly dislodged. She called the booter, he delivered my $150, and I parked in the right space. After this misadventure, we all lived happily ever after.

Is there an epilogue? Possibly. Below the surface of the human psyche lurks extreme violence…be careful with garlic and loaded weapons!

Bud Hearn
November 12, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Zen and the Art of Dog Washing

The Chinese Buddhists got close…but there’s no faster way of achieving sudden enlightenment than through the washing of dogs.

Of course, the Chinese only skinned them to roast on a spit for dinner. But not Americans. We’ve found something strangely soothing in the cleansing of dogs, a superior method of transcending rational thought. There’s no need to sit in painful postures muttering mindless mantras gleaned from fortune cookies in dog Latin to attain the apex of human reasoning.

Perhaps you’ve tried raising your thought process while scrubbing your mutt and watching on TV the nadir of all humanity, Glenn Beck, and his rabid, paroxysmal fascination with a red hotline to nowhere. Alaska Sen. Stevens and once-governor Palin meditated and stoked each other’s fantasies on a bridge to nowhere. Some suggested it was the zenith of illumination possible for these two artic artifacts, relics of the ice age era before common sense had been discovered.

The reigning Prince of paparazzi photo-opts, the POTUS Grin Master, continues to strut in ethereal mid-air over a chasm supported by Marxist enchantments, ginning up an esoteric canticle of “bridge of hope, we can, we can, we can.” Following blindly in his march to nowhere is a mesmerized, chanting mob of witless and weak-minded minions. Anybody with one brain cell wouldn’t Zen into such bunk!

While washing doggies is sometimes comedic, it still exceeds such human idiocy. Dog lovers everywhere recommend it for comic relief. Tonight I washed two Westies, black with dirt from the day’s pursuit of moles and lizards. Tenderly I coaxed them, one by one, into the laundry sink spa, a bubble bath, foaming with bath salts and shampoo. Did they like it? What do you think? We were all in the Zen Zone!

Once in, I transcended the Dog Whisperer, praising them on their transformation from a dog to an angel or a snowflake or a cumulus cloud. Emerson and Thoreau were resurrected right there in the laundry room while my own mental dirt and grime fell off. We entered the world of the Transcendentalists.

Anita Dunn, the President’s communication director, said by some to have been the former chamber maid to Deepak Chopra, was recently overheard quoting some mantra from Mao Zedong. In rhythmic chants of a Vedic hymn, over and over, she uttered something along the lines of, “energy has been too cheap for too long,” all the while seated at the feet of Green Zen Master Gore. The Press can’t be trusted to report accurately these days, so the exact context of this may be suspect.

Seekers of this higher plain of Zen thought include the rich and famous as well. Today it was reported that the Omaha Oracle, Sir Buffett of Berkshire, has purchased another railroad. Supposedly he got this Awakening while sitting in a lotus position upon the rails in the recent full moonlight in Folkston, Georgia, the train-switching Mecca of America. Others speculated he had finally transcended a youthful paranoia caused by his mother who refused to allow him to play choo choo with toy trains after the age of 40, and this was payback. Hoaxes abound.

This opens another can of meditative worms…the recent hoaxes. Balloon Boy, for example. Such enlightenment often comes in strange places, like the attic. While the balloon was sailing helplessly across the mid-western plains, balloon boy was chomping on a Dominos Delivers. On the inside flap of the box was the pizza mantra, a devilish diction devised by the in-house guru of gruyere, “Pepperoni is Portnoy’s Portal to Power.” The net result of this hoax, of course, was the enlightenment of the American citizenry, who have finally reached that state of Nirvana where they realize that they’ve been gamed all along.

Zen and the Art of Dog Washing. You don’t get it? Try this. Zen and Art are creative acts, ways to zone out of the cumulative effects of life’s dirt and grime. Though temporary and transitory, the reconnection to the undefiled inner child produces a cleansing Illumination.

Don’t have a dog? Shame. Then try baseball---a close second. It beats Beck, and that’s Zen of the utmost reformation!

Bud Hearn
November 5, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Reluctant Turkey

I am a turkey, born, or rather, hatched…a freak of nature. Not of choice, mind you, for who has a choice? These things happen. This is my story of Thanksgiving

I hatched in 28 days like the others. But I suspected something was wrong when I heard my family wailing and gnashing their beaks, “What went wrong, mama…have you been tom-turkeying around the barnyard? Is it a rara avis? Let’s name it R. T.”

I soon figured out the problem. Turkey poults grow rapidly. I didn’t. All that grew was my neck and my snool, a sporty red beard. While my peers grew large in girth and chest, I grew long in neck, big in head.

I was an anorexic hatchling. Since someone is always to blame for everything, I accused my ancestry, a cross-breed of the Bourbon breed of New Orleans and the Royal Palm sophisticates of South Florida. I’m a living example of a gene gone wild.

Life deals the cards—our role is to play the hand dealt. I drew a bad hand and was a constant embarrassment. I was a nerd from the get-go with a keen sense for survival. Let’s just say nature shorted me on one hand but made up for it on the other.

Being scrawny and bow-legged, I was the playground piñata for every bully and insecure jerk tom who called me names, like “runt, pencil-neck and skinny.” I got no respect. Even the hens fled when I approached, giggling as they ran. My mama escorted me to turkey school, a daily embarrassment.

I wasn’t invited to play the barnyard turkey games. Those were reserved for the NFL wannabe’s. They were the big eaters who hung out in the jock dorm, bragging of their pumped-up pecs and heavy bench presses. The rest of us roosted on a fence.

Being a loner, I observed turkey nature and realized quickly that something was not right in this barnyard. I was always a picky eater, an herb and salad guy, despising the turkey chow. I grew little while the others swelled to prodigious proportions overnight.

Twice a day the feed wagon arrived. Hormone-infused turkey chow was emptied into feeding troughs by burly men with long beards. It put a South Georgia thanksgiving buffet to shame. The men would say, “Now, you birds eat up, ya hear? Thanksgiving’s getting close,” patting their bellies and laughing. I once tasted the cuisine, but it had the aroma of poison.

I was as skinny as a starving monk, but smart. I knew there’s no such thing as a “free lunch,” or free anything. I kept warning this ignorant and gluttonous brood, “Boys and girls, this food isn’t free…there’s a catch.” No one listened.

One fall day a white truck with wire cages entered the barnyard. The bib-overall boys bounded out and opened the gate. Me? I slinked to the back corner of the yard, knowing something evil was about to go down. A beautiful White-breed turkey emerged from a cage, and the jock-toms went stark raving mad. I knew what they had in mind. But it was a trick. This was not an ordinary turkey…this hen had experience, you could tell.

She pranced around the yard, enraging the hens and arousing the toms. Fights ensued, feathers flew in the frenzy as the toms assaulted one another for her attention. The hens bristled. The toms had only one hen in mind now. I crouched further into the shadows of the barn, watching this turmoil and thinking, “This ain’t natural.”

Soon one of the men began to cluck and yelp on a turkey call. The White hen sashayed seductively towards the truck, followed mindlessly in a collective swoon by the food-anesthetized toms. The hens could not tolerate losing their toms to this hussy, so they marched proudly behind them onto the truck with its open, waiting prisons.

I kept quiet, stayed low. I knew all along what she was…a Judas turkey, herding these ignorant birds off to where nothing good would happen. The free feed bag was over…the bill had come due. I felt sorrow for them.

Here I was, abandoned and alone in this big, deserted barnyard. I longed for companionship. There was none. I slept in the empty jock dorm, still smelling of turkey musk, wondering about tomorrow.

Tomorrow came. Feeling safe, I strutted, scratching up what few herbs remained. The white truck pulled up again. The burley men opened the door. Down the shoot came a fresh crop of young Narragansett hens. What’s this, I wondered, sitting on the fence post. They looked around the yard, then at me. What, were they were attracted to R. T.?

Observing the approaching tableau, Roy Orbison began to sing to me, “Pretty women, don’t you on walk on by, pretty women, don’t you make me cry, pretty women, you look lovely as can be, are you lonely just like me?”

Thanksgivings come in many ways. “Here I am, girls, R. T., the barnyard stud.” Now that’s my idea of Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to you, and strut proudly in your own barnyard…gobble, gobble. R. T.

November 2,2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

No Watch, No Wallet, No Wireless...

“When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose, you’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal…how does it feel…" Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan

The day dawned nasty, sunless in a drenching rain. His mood mirrored the low barometric pressure. Having coffee, he noticed The Great Triumvirate ~ his watch, wallet and cell phone ~ lying on the counter in mocking judgment. Something about the combination of these godless idols caught his attention and gave him an idea. “An experiment,” he said aloud, a perfect diversion on a dreary day.

He removed his wallet’s contents: credit cards, $83 of cash, driver’s license, insurance card, gym card, business cards and an assortment of useless scraps of paper with mysterious names and numbers. Scattered upon the table, they seemed to synthesize the consistency of his life…crutches of enablement. Many live without them, could he? He pondered the question.

Today I’ll leave my watch, wallet and wireless and see how it goes, he concluded…a noble experiment of living without them for a day. So he left, strolling into the unknowns of the hour.

Hungry, his first stop was Publix and free coffee. Searching the aisles, he discovered fresh fruit, cheeses, bread, chips and dips and other delicacies. Later he moved on to Kroger, where there was much of the same. He ate modestly. In the cheese shop he found he could ask for tastes of a variety of cheeses, telling the clerk he’d be back soon. And so it went.

After brunch he became anxious, needing communication. Ah, the library, he remembered. There he found available a variety of newspapers, books, magazines, free…and nice comfortable chairs and clean bathrooms. Outside the rain poured in torrents. No one questioned his right to be there. No one cared that he was.

Night approached. After an appetizer-run through Whole Foods and their enticements, he strolled across the street. City lights reflected in a rainbow of colors from the wet, black streets. What a day to experiment with becoming utterly naked, he thought, as the doorman welcomed him with a smile into the elegant St. Regis Hotel. Did he suspect my subterfuge? He shrugged, walking across the plush carpet towards the bar.

He thought best on his feet and stood leaning on the mahogany bar as if he belonged. His back was against the wall, an appropriate metaphor for the experiment, he concluded. Pretense prefers such locations, where the scene can be overlooked for opportunities with impunity and anonymity. He was not a dissembling novice in bars…yet tonight was different, having no watch, no wallet and no wireless. He felt naked, vulnerable.

The crowd’s comportment was decorous and genteel. “May I help you, sir?” the cordial bartender asked. ”A water, tall glass, with two lemons, please, I’m waiting on someone,” he said. The water arrived, delivered without a smile. “Say, wonder if I could have a plate of those nuts and pretzels,” he asked. Obligatorily, the barkeep complied.

He sipped the water like an expensive glass of wine. The bar stretched almost the length of the room, with stools occupied by amiable patrons. Small tables were scattered throughout the room, accented by cushy leather chairs and shared by a dichotomous mixture of working types…older men mostly, younger women, each plying their trade over tall glasses filled with olives, or wine. From the dark paneling hung floor-length draperies, muting the room and giving it a cozy city feel.

A few of the men he knew, some from experience, others by reputation. He recognized none of the women, most of who were of a younger generation. Those who were not occupied by men concentrated intently on their Blackberries, as if to deflect the notion of insignificance. He understood the context of such interactions.

Cautiously he moved from the bar, shaking hands along the way with those he recognized. Nobody seemed to notice his glass of water, nobody asked. Nobody cared. Plastic credit cards flashed and cash lay damply upon the bar. He ordered another glass of water without incident or concern. He thought, you know, I’m having fun here and have not spent a dime.

The bar thinned out and he did likewise. He walked from the lobby through the door opened by the cordial doorman. The rain had subsided to a fine mist, fresh upon his face. He felt a rush of empowerment, sensing freedom from the tyranny of The Triune idols. What other superfluity could he shed? He contemplated this as he walked. Maybe another experiment tomorrow perhaps? Maybe.

But for today, no watch, no wallet, no wireless…no worry. This is America!

Bud Hearn
October 29, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Lies We Tell

“…the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things.” James 3:5

Admit it…by the time you’ve read this you’ve layered your life with more lies, those uttered, and those received from others. Mostly the little ones that grease the gears of good public relations. Lies are a fact of life.

My father, a master inventor of such fiction, taught me this…he was a fisherman! The blame lies at the feet of women gardeners, but creative lying has been raised by fisherman from science to an art form.

The WSJ reported this week on spousal lying. It hinted that men lied in their responses, while women were truthful…mostly. But that’s not news…men occupy the world of sports, perfect incubators for fabrications. (Read political news if you’re unconvinced!) The article reminded me of some childhood experiences with fishermen.

Behold the Fisherman…
he riseth early in the morning and disturbeth the whole household…Mighty are his preparations…He goeth forth full of hope and when the day is spent, he returneth smelling of strong drink and the truth is not in him…”

The large wooden plaque, the “fisherman’s creed,” varnished into a gleaming sheen, was hung in the back-door entry of my childhood home. Youthful memory gets foggy with years, but one thing is clear: before each fishing expedition, my father kneeled and swore allegiance to the Fisherman’s Creed as he departed into the darkness of early morning, hopeful and sober.

I was forced-marched on many of these rituals of maturation, but the thought of rolling out of bed at 3 AM in pursuit of the evasive Pisces was as repugnant as it was barbaric. I wanted no part of it. The thought of sitting in a boat, sweating under the blistering sun or enduring the freezing cold, was highly unappealing. Once I heard my father say to a companion, “James, that boy just ain’t right.” I’ve continued this sideways drift!

Sometimes I relented, going along to learn this art of embellishment. After all, it seemed to be a manly thing, riding endless miles in the back seat of a car, jostled like jelly along dusty dirt roads. Once I asked, “Dad, why can’t we sleep later and go to the pond closer to home?” Oh, the look. “Now son, don’t ask stupid questions…fish bite early, before dawn. We’ll be there in another hour or so.” I remained sullen all day.

My dad had an inhumane way of waking me for these Ramboesque adventures. He’d grab my big toe, jerk my leg from under the covers and swing it like a pendulum, often wrenching it from the hip joint. I would scream in agony at the torture, as if 3 AM wasn’t torture enough. A big knot remains a vestige of parental abuse.

I vividly recall one trip. I gorged myself that day with an excess of potted meat, spam and Vienna sausages, chased with four cokes and Hostess Twinkies. That trip ended abruptly, as I recall, when my stomach rebelled and the retching destroyed all hopes of catching fish from that creek. My father never forgave me for it.

Once I adamantly refused the insane 3 AM “invitation.” Awaking to the smell of bacon at 8 AM, I knew I’d made the better choice. After breakfast, with my rod and one lure, I walked about a quarter mile to the pond. In an hour I had caught more fish than I could tote. Jesus showed me where to cast! I was home by 10 AM and headed to the beach where girls were…I was able to work on some lies of my own.

Later that night my father and his buddies staggered in, apparently having ignored the Fisherman’s Creed that morning, full of tall tales, strong drink and an empty cooler. “Hey, Pop, look at what I caught at the pond.” Revenge is sweet! He didn’t speak to me for a week after that, but it ended the 3 AM disturbances. He died unrepentant in his convictions.

The WSJ article lacked consensus. Mom had it figured out, saying, “Boys, It’s not a lie if you can believe it.” It vindicated us all. In time she presented us a plaque given by Ladies Bible Auxiliary, called “The Angler’s Prayer:” “Lord, give me the Grace to catch a fish so big that when talking of it I may never need to lie.” To my knowledge my father and his pals never received this Grace. And with girls neither did I!

Why do we manipulate the truth in so many ways? Maybe it’s a matter of survival. What lie aided your survival today?

Bud Hearn
October 22, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Inordinate Obsessions

Stanley Galway made the news last week, not by choice but by chance. It wasn’t front page, but the local TV did air a short video clip. Stanley wouldn’t have approved. But then he wasn’t consulted.

Retired at 62, children grown, a nice pension, Stanley fell in love…again! His wife never approved, of course…women rarely tolerate husbands with wandering eyes and their penchants for ever-revolving trysts. But she relented, rationalizing he’d been a diligent husband for 39 years, a responsible provider for their children. After all, he’d worked hard for their comfortable lifestyle and perhaps deserved some freedom. Even she herself had fallen in love with the bridge center.

Stanley lived an up-front life, never duplicitous. Even in his latter-day obsessive romance, he first consulted Margie before making the commitment. He counted the cost of things before he acquired a taste for them. He told her he’d be spending time away from home, traveling with his new love. He promised never to publicly flaunt the affair, but let it evolve slowly. That way he hoped the community wouldn’t think him some old fool or has-been playboy with a late-life inordinate inclination. Besides, he was a deacon at the First Baptist Church.

Stanley realized there’d be costs to carry on such an adventurous and adulterous affair. He needed a new wardrobe to fit in with new friends. While the new clothing seemed strange at first, he soon preferred the look to the staid blazer and khaki outfits he’d worn for years.

There were also other costs to consider. Motels, restaurants, periodic maintenance and other travel expenses would be involved, so Stanley did a careful budget, promising himself and Margie he’d stay within it…he was a straight-up kind of guy. He even obtained a small credit line and a couple of new Visa cards for backup.

Then there were the children to consider. What would they think of their father’s moonlit rendezvous at his age? “Dad, is this a wise thing you’re doing, or just some mid-life infatuation?” they asked. “And what about your heart? After all, you know you’re not that young…how much excitement can you stand?” they reasoned. They cautioned him, tried to persuade him to rethink such a preposterous proclivity.

But he’d have none of it, and prevailed by promising to refrain from wild parties and to never over-indulge in alcoholic beverages. He acknowledged that alcohol does lower inhibitions, making one both invisible and bullet proof. He pledged to be careful not to lose control. “Look, I’m a deacon,” he argued, “and I do have a reputation.”

Finally, with everyone’s reluctant consent, Stanley said goodbye to them last week. With the high spirits that accompany new romantic interests, he strolled smiling from his house, promising to stay in touch, but not agreeing to divulge too many steamy details of his first fling. It wouldn’t be proper, he concluded. Roaring out of the driveway and pumping the air with his fist, he felt free at last.

Unfortunately, however, Stanley was unschooled in the ways of Fate. She’s a fickle woman, never giving, only lending. And Stanley’s loan was too short…it came due on demand that afternoon.

Stanley’s brief moment of newsprint came in a short blurb in the Coastal Times. It read:
Stanley Galway, a 62 year old man wearing a red Superman cape, died Wednesday when he lost control of his Harley Davidson motorcycle on a curve on Hwy. 17 and slid under a pickup occupied by George and Maude Hayseed near Cannon Creek. Witnesses reported that in spite of his mangled body, he died with a smile on his face. After further investigation, police stated he was in fact wearing a helmet.”

This week a sign appeared on the lawn of the First Baptist Church: “Repent, all ye who pass this way!” There, next to that sign, stood a crumpled mass of steel. Unrecognizable now as a motorcycle, this grotesque display bore a stark and silent testimony to the perils of misplaced passion. Inscribed on a bronze plate at the base of Stanley’s colossal wreckage were the words:

He sowed the wind,
And reaped the whirlwind

Is there a moral to this sad and tragic tale? You decide. I think that Stanley would agree that helmets are inadequate armor for inordinate infatuations with Harleys.

Bud Hearn
October 15, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chomping on Red Lobster

Oh, the games dogs play.

We have two Westies, they love to play games. Especially when I join them on knees to become the big dog on the floor. I get no respect for that condescension, or preferential treatment…we’re all just dogs now, playing games.

Mac is a male, Sophie a female. Mostly they cohabitate peacefully, often sleeping together. But with certain games, their innate temperament as civilized animals vanishes, especially if the games involve certain toys. Dogs have a covetous gene as well. One might say that one is Blue, the other Red. The roles often change, depending on the game. But the stakes are always high…win at all costs!

This morning we’re playing the “Get Red Lobster” game where the Pack Leader, that’s me, gets to incite violence by playing “keep away.” The game goes like this: I run wildly around the house with red lobster, occasionally flinging it into another other room. A mad rush ensues to capture the creature. Suddenly, upon capture by one or the other, it becomes “mine.” Teeth off, you interloper! It’s sorta like screaming “Fire” in a crowded auditorium…pandemonium results.

The red lobster is elusive, it changes mouths, one stealing it from the other, or by brute force or cunning one manages to elude the relentless pursuer with the Grail. Which is the whole point of the game anyway. This entertainment continues until one or the other loses interest, or Pack Leader tires of the charade. Covetousness abates, but it often gets nasty and mean before it’s over. Bored, they retreat to chair to cohabitate. All at rest…till tomorrow.

It’s not wise to intercede with one’s hand into the tug-of-war fray in the battle over “it’s mine.” They will mock that ill-conceived intrusion. Bloody fingers or worse, all in good nature, of course, will be the aftermath of gate-crashing that private affair. God once interrogated that poor fellow, Job, saying, “Pal (God never actually calls anyone pal…I made that up), wanna have something to remember? Lay your hand on Leviathan, remember the battle, you won’t do that again, because your last state will be more grievous than the first.”

Now “Get Red Lobster” is not the only game we play. It gets boring after a while. Something new is required. We have a game called “Shirt.” Blue Man (Mac) hides beneath a tattered shirt. This is the signal for Red Girl, Sophie, to attack, assaulting him from all angles. After a brief but brutal engagement, he emerges, having had enough, fleeing finally under the bed for safety.

Red Girl especially likes the “Little Man” game, where my fingers walk across the floor, attacking with the battle cry, “Little Man’s gonna get you.” I can only speculate what she thinks two fingers can actually do, but it invokes harsh growls and she cuts and runs out for cover. Of course, it’s just a devious trick. Even the Devil (notice I gave him respect by the capitalization) is expert at this game, pretending with great swelling words what will happen if one’s actually “caught.” It reminded me of the childhood “boogy man under the bed” delusion…we fled when no man pursueth!

We have many other toys, each with the same underlying theme…harmless games for fun and entertainment. There’s Monkey, Mr. Gator, Bear, Shoe, Rope, Squirrel, and Lamb. We emphasize their importance of “winner take all” by ascribing to them capital letters. After all, what’s the use of competition or struggle, fun or otherwise, if there’s no prize to gain?

The nation is playing high-stakes games now in Washington, on Wall Street, in Iran and Afghanistan. These games have devolved into a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred contest of do or die consequences. Civility has been cast to the dogs. Like a rancid bone, bloody tooth and nail, the nation is being ravaged to shreds with no end in sight. Old friends are now foes, while in the wake greed follows like a bad odor. The Pack Leader, with Windy City words, vacillates and incites, hiding safely behind words, shirts and skirts, while unrestrained his minions mine gold from the clueless caverns of Congress.

Dog games entertain, but there is a conclusion to them. Time limits are good things with games…it leaves the loser opportunity to try again tomorrow. And tomorrow will come! What game will we play then?

Oh, the games we play with others, and with ourselves. Now there’s a bone to sink your teeth into…..

Bud Hearn
October 9, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Masquerade Party

How delightful to dress in disguise and go to another masquerade party, so thought the Mountebank family. “Honey, better get a move on,” she shouted to him. “We don’t want the party to start without us.”

Just getting the children out of the door for the carpool and sleepover. You did a great job in picking out these school outfits. I never did like the uniforms of the last school anyway,” he responded. “They looked stunning today. They are sure to make a great first impression,” he boasted proudly.

An aura of excitement filled the house as they sifted through the variety of disguises they had. “Honey, let’s go all-out this time, make it our best day yet, dazzle everyone we meet. We also only get but one chance to make that first impression, you know,” she announced as she sorted through the various accoutrements in her jewelry drawer. She had already spent way too much time in her closet, and the attic, picking out just the right outfit for the party. She was certain she’d be a big hit today.

As she dressed she remembered some of the other parties they had attended. She had not yet wanted to go to extremes in creating any special look, just enough to fool the casual observers. After all, she was younger then and masquerade parties were still somewhat new to her. But not entirely new. She remembered them from high school and at the university where they had a bit more intrigue. No, she had sufficient experience in disguising herself without being detected.

Such parties are a little like the youthful game of “hide and seek.” While it was fun to pick novel and unusual spots to hide, it was also fun to be found, and to make a mad scramble to home base before being “tagged.” She was glad she could continue to play this childish game even as an adult…she got the same thrill as she did as a child. Except now she did not want to be discovered at all. She thought these things as she put on her makeup.

Meanwhile he was having a bit of a difficulty. “Damn, I’ve worn these outfits too many times. People may think I’m poor, or that I’m just sloppy in my choices,” he lamented. “Besides, there’ll be new people at the party, and I surely wouldn’t want to look like some hick just off the Trailways bus,” he muttered somewhat to himself. He continued to sort through the variety of his disguises, remembering how impressive some had been and how they had utterly fooled everyone at previous parties. After all, he did have a reputation of sorts, and he intended to improve upon it. He finally decided.

The Mountebank couple really made a perfect pair…and they most often received the prizes for having the most elaborate, creative and disarming disguises. But in truth, they had learned this artifice from their families. His extended family was the Fibber’s from the masquerade capital of the world, New Orleans. They were of French descent, while her family, the Sleight’s, reputedly arrived in the late 1600’s from England. Their outfits tended to the most extreme, his to the gaudy, and hers to the exquisite. Together they were able to deceive even the most observant of those they met.

As these parties became more frequent, the Mountebank’s had a more difficult time in perfecting the perfect disguises. After all, it was their unspoken intent to trick as many people as was possible. Because of this, they had often forgotten which outfits they had worn and who had seen them. And face it; they did have a certain reputation for disguise to protect. What would people really think of them if they were recognized? It gave them much stress as they aged, and they discontinued some of the old parties in preference for the new ones.

Sweetie, I’m about ready, how about you?” she said, the mirror smiling back its approval. “Almost ready, Hon” he replied, “just let me dab on a little bit of this new male musk I bought. I bet they will think I am a real stud with this stuff…at least that’s what the advertisement said would happen.”

In a kitchen rendezvous they looked over each other’s disguise in approval. “Reputation looking good,” they thought as they joined hands and walked out of the back door. After all, they had done this for years, each off for just another average day at work!

“In each walk of life each man puts on a personality and outward appearance so as to look what he wants to be thought; in fact you might say that society is entirely made up of assumed personalities.” La Rochefoucauld c.1662

Enjoy your own masquerade party today!

Bud Hearn
October 1, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Someone is Always to Blame

Atlanta once burned. Blame Sherman. Now it floods and God’s getting the blame. So CNN said. But someone, or some thing, is always to blame for everything.

I’m blaming a white plastic fork for my problem last year. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what happened.

I used to keep a ’96 Chevy Blazer in Atlanta. It was really my daughter’s, not mine, just a hand-me-down. I’d bought it on a credit card as a wedding present (I say credit card because the wedding had pillaged my bank account). See, in weddings a father’s role is to “sit down, shut up and shell out.” Have you learned that yet? You will!

She’d moved up to a Benz, another hand-me-down from her mother. The Blazer suited me. I felt like Clyde without Bonnie behind the blackened windows. Anonymity has its own rewards. Furthermore, door dings didn’t keep me awake. In fact, it infuriated the insolent swine who swore revenge, and the Blazer became a vintage classic. But it did cause some consternation in my family.

They’d make snide comments like, “Have you no pride?” Or “I’m gonna laugh when the door finally falls off on Peachtree Street.” At least the valets expected no tip from a driver of a junk heap. By the way, it’s possible to drive vehicles a long time with the aid of bungee cords and duck tape. And the door never once fell off…I prayed a lot in those days.

Back to the episode. It was a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon. I’d arrived in Atlanta with a powerful hunger gnawing in my stomach. I’d spent a fortune for a large to-go of veggies and fried chicken from OK Café. Its aroma excited me beyond human comprehension, and I swooned in anticipation of the feast as I headed back to my office.

Starvation is a trickster. I got out of the car with the food, leaving my cell, wallet, keys and plastic fork in it. The office keys, too. The door shut, locked. Uh oh (well, that’s not REALLY what I said). My life flashed before my eyes. I saw the ambulance picking this desiccated, emaciated body from the parking lot, exclaiming, “Poor fellow…died of hunger for want of a plastic fork.”

Starving brings murder, mayhem, blame, things like that. But reality set in, my food sitting on the door stoop, getting cold. You see, my fork was inside the Blazer. I cursed the incompetent design engineer, the manufacturer, the inept line crew in Detroit and the dealer. They all had a hand in my dilemma, but blame won’t pay the rent, so I considered other options.

No luck. No money, no cell, no fork. The food got colder. I became delirious, irrational. Starving men are can’t be held accountable for their actions. Hunger drove me to more urgent solutions.

Ah, the back flair window, it was loose. Could I get a stick in the crack? No luck. Pull a little harder, no luck. Harder. The crack widened, I could see the fork. Harder, harder yet.

POW…like an explosion the window cracked into a thousand black pieces. Frantically, I shoved the stick in and hit the auto lock, success at last. In a crazed frenzy I reached in, grabbed the fork---never mind the other things--- and attacked my cold cuisine.

Later I assessed the results of my impetuous actions. Where did the blame go? That’s the dilemma. Who, or what, was to blame for this $238 mistake? Me? My hunger? God (others have for far less!)? The fork that mocked me? Blame had to go somewhere. But where?

The human brain is so constructed that all things must have a proximate cause, and as a consequence require a plausible conclusion. Any shrink will tell you that sanity cannot abide an un-reconciled mystery.

The epilogue to this ugly event was fitting. We gave the Blazer to a charity, Feed the Hungry Foundation, for a healthy tax deduction, a fitting conclusion to assuage my guilt and my family’s embarrassment. Circle closed. But was it? I think yes. You see, now there will always be a fork in the future of this Blazer…somebody else’s problem!

This blame game is serious business, and if we look deep enough, there will always be a Judas goat somewhere that can take the blame.

Take my word for it!

Bud Hearn
September 24, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Box for Equivocation

Her shrill voice over the telephone was insistent, “Fill in the empty boxes, sign the return and fax it back if you want to avoid jail time. The last drop at the post office is in fifteen minutes, I’m tired and seriously considering murder…yours!”

It was my favorite accountant, gone berserk, on this, the last day of tax filings for procrastinators like me. I knew it’d happen, but then again I wasn’t worried…she says the same things every year. Plus her office is 15 miles away, and in Atlanta, 15 miles is an eternity!

I’ve finally put her “in a box” and know her moods. However, given closer proximity, and a sufficient quantity of alcohol, she just might make good on that threat. Only fools push women to such extremes! Which is why legislators are, or should be, considering a total ban on alcohol sales to women on the eve of tax-filing day.

Procrastination won’t make tax problems go away, it just prolongs the inevitable. The inevitable? Why, having to declare “under penalties of perjury” that the boxes on your return, and the name you have signed are true and accurate. Which recalls Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” Believe me, the IRS has a different view of truth than you do!

This year, the boxes on our business returns, line 22, “Ordinary business income (loss)”, contained either a 0 or a loss bracket. I could finally declare the truth with absolute impunity.

Fortunately for me alcohol sales were not banned, and I sat comfortably, sipping on a very tall mood-enhancer, thinking of the boxes I’d filled in over the years. And wondering what boxes I’d been placed in by others. It’s dangerous to think along these lines. Sooner or later philosophy enters and convolutes reason. But reason saved me tonight when the phone rang. A friend’s voice muttered sadly, “Hey, man, got a minute? I’ve got a dilemma.”

What’s new, I thought, he always has a dilemma, especially where money and women are concerned. “OK, Bobby, which is it, money or women?” Silence. “That hurt, man, has she already called you?” he said. I now had the answer, but asked for more. “Which ‘her’ is it this time?” I questioned. “New one, you don’t know her. It’s different this time.” His certitude was suspect.

Different, huh? Care to explain?” I laughed… love travails of others are always funny, unless they’re mine! “I’ll try, long story short,” he said. “Things went well for a while, we were perfect for each other.” I interjected, “Define ‘a while’ and ‘perfect,’ please… these concepts confuse me.” He hated my directness.

OK, so not like THAT long, just a week, and I probably misused the word ‘perfect,’ since nobody’s exactly perfect.” The truth inched closer. I listened. “She’s forced my back to the wall, putting me in a box, demanding I declare my intentions. Said I had to decide…Now!” I rolled my eyes, and asked, “Well, Bobby, just what are your intentions?” More silence. The question stunned him.

Finally he spoke, “It’s like the tax return I signed today, where all the boxes had to be checked, yes or no, truth not lies, or else. No wiggle room…hell, maybe she’s an accountant. You think?” Enhancing my enhancer, I asked a stupid question, “Well, did you bother to ask her ‘line of work’?” He answered just as stupidly, “In time, man, I was getting around to that. First things first.” Not hard to see why Bobby had dilemmas with women.

I answered, “Seems simple, like the tax return, just check the box that applies. If she’s OK, check that box. If not, then the other box. Like you said, ‘no wiggle room,’ let the chips fall where they may.”

He lamented, “Easy to say, hard to do. Problem is, I just don’t know. Relationships are organic, transitional, so how is it possible to ‘box’ them once and for all? There should be a box that says ‘Maybe,’ that allows for change.” Creative, but improbable.

The discourse dragged on until nothing was left of my enhancer but dregs, which was pretty much how I saw Bobby’s life ending up with this “new one.” The boy just had a hard time facing up to the truth, whatever that is in such a world of subjectivity. We finally said goodbye. Nothing was solved.

That night I dreamed about the tax returns and relationships. Somewhere in the dream a ball and chain appeared. I took that as a warning, vowing to neither procrastinate nor perjure myself in the future on either.

As for Bobby, who can say? Perhaps he checked the correct box and this “new one” will be his last one ~ then, maybe he can lose my phone number!

Bud Hearn
September 17, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Place to Be

“We all jus’ prisoners of the earth, Mistah Bud, mostly jus’ trying to get along in the place where we’re at. Now, I ain’t saying this here is the best place they is anywhere on this earth, but it’s where I be now, and I make do.”

The man who said these words was Felix Johnson, a huge black man that worked on my grandfather’s farm. He was not a philosopher, just a laborer who sweated with me in the sweltering summer peanut picking season. It was his response to a question I had asked, not so much for wisdom but in an attempt to break the silence that hung heavy between us that day.

It was late August, 1963, the summer of my senior year at the university. We were sitting together in the dust, drinking the last of the sweet iced tea, sucking the sugar off of the ice cubes. Our backs rested upon the peanut combine while the setting sun cast a shadowed orange haze over the bone-dry landscape. The stripped field lay silent in the dusty brown windrows of desiccated peanut vines. Nothing moved. Our day’s work done.

I was 21, contemplating my life’s options—he was 35, living his. I had asked, “Felix, do you think people know what they want out of life, the place they want to be?” He spat. A long arc of brown snuff juice sliced the air, and the powdery dust swelled and rose where it landed, then settled again. He said, “Well, I reckon folks think they know what they wants, but it seems to me they generally don’t know. They jus’ trying to find how to get on in the place where they’re at.” He sat motionless, statuesque.

We worked together for another couple of weeks until the last peanut had been picked. We cleaned the equipment, oiled and greased its bearings and rollers, replaced its missing roller tines and stored it for the winter in the barn. Felix returned to his regular farm chores, and I returned to my place in Athens to conclude what would be the final year of my “higher” education. Different lives, different places, but a common fate of making the most of the respective places where we found ourselves at the time. What choice did we have?

Felix was named after my grandfather. He lived alone “on the place” in one of the many tenant houses scattered around the large farm. It was built in the late 1880’s and lay down a dark, sandy lane in a grove of water oaks. In the yard of his place “free-range” chickens scratched for seeds and grubs in the sandy loam. Two dogs usually lay languid in their hollowed-out dusty places beneath the porch.

Nothing remains in this place today, the forest having reclaimed its own. Except for a few scraps of wood, moldy and rotten, lying in the shadow of a stone chimney, still standing stately and blackened from fires of the past, little intimates that life once existed here. Strange, how it remains in my memory, with Felix standing stoic, iconic, on his porch when I arrived to pick him up, and where he retreated when I had returned him at day’s end. He had no wheels, just an antique Ford tractor, the red markings nearly rusted from the fenders. Occasionally I would see him riding the old mule…he made do.

My places changed often in those ambitious years after college and the past was subsumed by the present. On a visit “home” for Thanksgiving a few years later I learned that Felix had found an affinity for strong drink and had been killed in a knife fight in one of the bars down in “the quarters.” These obscure places were winked-at by the local law, realizing that farm life often got boring and there needed to be places to find relief. Unfortunately, Felix chose the wrong place at the wrong time, or the wrong woman, his choices sending him to his final resting place.

A lot has happened since those days. I’ve often thought about this “sense of place”-- a place, or places-- where we can “be” who and what we are at the time. Often we ourselves, unknowingly, define a place to others, even as others, like a favorite bank teller, or mechanic, or waitress, define their own environs to us. The old, the familiar, the comfortable speak to a fundamental need of some sense of permanence in a transient, changing and reinventing world.

Places often define us. We adapt, their milieu molding us subliminally in ways we never anticipated or realized. Once in my hometown church I was accosted by two elderly ladies. “We hardly recognized you since you were ‘out of place’. Your place was the back right, and you were in the front left.” I thanked them for reminding me of this lapse of memory but assured them that God had approved of the move. “Praise the Lord,” they said in unison. Some things never change.

It seems a fair statement that humans like to complete circles, reconcile them in their minds so as to move on in life. In September, 2004, some 41 years later, the last of our family farm was sold to another farmer. It was once over 11,000 acres and had been in our family since the late 1880’s, having been acquired partially by lottery and by private sale. Imagine, farming such a spread with mules and men…my great grandpa must have wanted a job mighty bad! Yet five generations were nurtured and fed by this farm. It seemed a sacrilege to have sold it.

Later that year, in November, my mother was laid to rest in the family plot in the city cemetery. The day was cold as the mourners huddled together closely with the casket flower sprays under canopy of the small, white tent over the grave. The farewell service was short, what more can be said at a grave? The crowd dispersed and left at a respectful pace…graves are no place to linger for long. Another circle had been completed, and everyone there knew there’d be more circles concluded in that place soon. The family retreated to the Methodist church for the remainder of casseroles and ham and fried chicken the “church ladies” had generously prepared. They would soon be off to their own places. I left the food and the family and took a final drive to close a circle of my own.

I eased the car off of the still-dirt road into the edge of a field that was no longer ours. It was the same field Felix and I had sat in on that hot August day, 1963. I wandered into that deserted plot, the dust swirling with every step, leaving a gray, powdery haze atop the smooth, shiny leather of my city shoes. Eerie, I thought. Nothing had changed in 41 years. It lay silently, just as it had in my youth, except for one thing: Ghosts of the past, of former days in that very place, were still there.

Slowly I stepped further into that field, strangely out of place in a blue funeral suit, anticipating something unknown. The composting brown stubble of another year’s peanut harvest was scattered about and littered the field. It issued forth a rank stench like mold and mildew in its decomposition. Small birds gleaned the peanut remnants. When startled, they flew up wildly into the wind, soared a few feet and lit again. Memories of another time began to live again in that place. As in my youth, I picked up and flung to nowhere small pebbles of limestone chips and assorted round stones from a Paleolithic age.

The American Indians have a saying that one’s ghost remains restless and present until the person is buried properly. A funeral was necessary here this afternoon.

But there were no visible graves there, only the sameness of the place lying fallow in the wind and heat and cold, waiting for the return of the mechanical torture of the plow and combine. That place rested now, but in a few months it would again be alive with green shoots of another year’s crop. Another family would toil, sweat, be nurtured and fed by the miracle of that dust upon which I walked. And walked for one last and final time.

I had come here for a conclusion, a reconciliation of an episode in my youth. As I strolled from that field a chipped arrowhead of flint lay exposed, chiseled by a Creek Indian ages ago. It rested peacefully, undisturbed for years, in its own place among the dust. I stooped, retrieved it and rubbed it on my pants. It reflected the late afternoon sunlight, brilliantly exposing another man’s efforts…a man who had also nurtured and fed a family in this place in a time so long ago. It was out of place in my hand, so I tossed it back where I found it. Grave robbery is not my occupation.

Whose field is this, I asked aloud to the wind? It whispered, “Why, it’s every-man’s field for a time, yours as well as theirs, a usufruct to everyone who are and have been prisoners of the earth.”

Leaving that place I crossed the short, barbed wire fence back into the road’s edge. I glanced over my shoulder one last time. On the far edge of that forlorn field they stood, Felix and the Indian, returning my glance. What could I do but smile and wave? I did. The field smiled back as the wind swirled the dust, and as evanescent as they appeared, their ghosts faded forever into the dark woods of another place. They were finally free to move on, and so was I. A memory had been re-lived and a circle had closed.

Some memories of my youth found peace that day in that place. Yet there were more fields to walk, and a few more ghosts to bury while time was still available. But in my heart I knew that the dust of another place was ultimately in my future…but not for now.

Driving away I thought, as prisoners of the earth, we have little choice but to move on, yet with the imperative of contributing something, even as small as sweat or an arrowhead, to the places we find ourselves while we can. While we can.

Bud Hearn
September 10, 2009