#10

“Don’t talk too much. Don’t pop off. Don’t talk after the game until you cool off.” Bear Bryant

Microphones are dangerous tools. They amplify everything that passes through them. Imagine being a jilted lover and then having the responsibility of praising the individual who ran roughshod over your trust. How awful would it be to have the duty to say something nice while knowing that the bully pulpit was just a breath away? How many of us could resist the opportunity to say something asinine, to keep from exorcising the demon of anger in a public forum with the loudspeaker that a microphone is?

It went just that way when a young man thought he could travel just a few miles down the road and taste joys of life in relative anonymity. He found delights with another while believing in the stealth that his professed love of another allowed him. He did not count on social media and the relative nearness of his dalliance to give him away. Now he stood before his angry ex while she looked at him with those scorned eyes, holding a microphone, and acting like she might say something nice about his sporting team.

She knew better. Her plan was to take her shot without making her pain too public. All who knew, however, would understand the violence in her words. She spoke with the glee appropriate for a pep rally and the anger appropriate for the wronging he had placed on her. But her little speech, one meant to dig and go for the gallows laugh, ran over the audience and caused collateral damage. Others felt her pain as their own without a bit of sympathy for her due to his original sin.

Pain gave rise to more pain. The microphone had been the instrument to cause the greater aches. Never again, never again…

#7

“Despite fear, finish the job.” Kobe Bryant

The shame of routines is that they often come to define a person. Maybe they eat at the same time or are particular about the kinds of foods they eat. Maybe they listen to music enthusiastically and share that with people incessantly. Either way, those people have reputations that are based on their routine behaviors.

I decided that I had grown tired of my routines, working out every morning, fasting as a method of weight loss, and watching the same news shows ad nauseum. To combat the lethargy and to rid myself of the fitness-political freak image, I set out to strip myself of the comforts of the dignity I was so practiced in. I wanted to go Cersei and walk through an angry mob naked, less of the heckling and dung throwing of course so that I might find a more pure and genuine self. Call it new routines through nakedness.

To get things started I stripped down to my roots, just me. I got to work early so that I could shock and surprise as many people as possible. I had been losing weight due to my exercising and fasting and my tunes were changing thanks to new Daily Mixes on Spotify. I headed down the hallway in all my glory, singing a song from the Wood Brothers.

The tune caught the attention of those who usually passed by me without a bit of attention being cast in my direction. I was flowing, out there, and to quote Kramer, “loving it!” The looks I got back included shock, disdain, and the gentle non-verbal suggestions that it was cool what I was doing, but under their dainty congratulatory nods were more likely a humiliating thought or two.

Finally, one person stopped me in the hall and said, “I like your hair better the other way.”

I was crushed. She had just thrown cow shit right in my face for the decision to go without any product to hold down my cowlicks down was a major one. I had changed nothing else, not my clothes, not my cable news viewing habits, or even the time of day I exercised. I was just allowing my hair to be free of the chemical shackles that kept the white renegade sprouts in place as a normal part of my professional look. I was tired of the routine and sick of the helmet head. Unfortunately, in my quest to go naked, I had been judged harshly. Worse, though, was the fact that I was ill-prepared to work through my vulnerability and collapsing confidence. I let the mob win.

I got fully dressed the next day and slicked my hair back down.

#4

“To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks a various language.” William Cullen Bryant

“America has always been a country of beautiful ideas and horrible behaviors.” Steven Almond

This post is the culmination of many influences. It started several days ago with a walk on a hot summer day. It’s been assaulted with intellectual thoughts brought by podcasts and YouTube videos. The words were given their genesis in my upbringing and that specific part that has allowed me love music without being able to play a note. And finally, my commentary represents a minor bit of writing suffering to get them written.

David Goggins is a man who has served in the toughest branches of the military. He also is a badass when it comes to fitness. I’ve only recently been introduced to his particular philosophies regarding exercise, but I think his ideas about getting in shape are less about the physical and more about an emotional/mental fitness. Goggins suggests that we experience “suffering” to understand what we are capable of. The suffering is a sign that we are strong, that we have the ability to persevere, and if we are able to survive those moments of dread, fear, or dropping confidence, we can achieve our personal greatness.

I share that because I am writing this post under those ideas. I am using Flowstate a program that forces the writer to keep going for if I take too long of a break between words, I will lose everything. I set the time for thirty-minutes, a time that I have never attempted. I will be suffering, I’m sure, but hopefully, the post reflects a true accounting of my walk the other day. My suffering due to the whims of forgetful software is hyperbole, but real enough that I am hoping to capture the emotion I felt this week as these social influences conspired to stoke the fires of my stagnant and all too settled moral convictions.

About the walk. I’ve been involved with sports and fitness my entire life, as an athlete, recreationally, and professionally within the sports and fitness industry spectrum. Lately, and I am guessing over the last ten years, I have been less committed to working out and it shows. I’m taking on a middle-aged paunch and feeling the effects of a lack of exercise when I walk up the stairs around my office. I have fought the exercise laze from time to time, but I’ve never been able to commit to keeping things regular.

The walk was day one.

I left my neighborhood with a goal of three to five miles of a comfortable pace. I plugged into a podcast featuring Jamelle Hill, an ESPN writer/commentator and hit the road. Ms. Hill is an exceptional writer. She is also a person who is unafraid to call things as she sees them. With her candor, she has been caught in some controversies that have not necessarily worked out in her favor, but each revolved around important issues, so she is at peace with the consequences.

My walk took me through my modest middle-class condo neighborhood, up a hill into a higher middle-class single-family home neighborhood, through a fifty-five and older community that is spotted with plenty of Mercedes of various classes, and ultimately onto the main drag the leads from my small, socially confused town.

Standing at the intersection of the roads leading into and out of town, had me thinking about the path through affluence I had taken. It had me thinking about the marginal path of comfort I had lived. It got me thinking that not everyone had the same opportunities that I have been afforded simply due to the color of our skin at birth.

With that, I made a hard left onto Ways Lane to see if I could work my way up to five miles. The podcast was over and one of my favorite singers came on, Bruce Hornsby, The Way it Is, and as you are reading this you’re thinking, “no way,” but rest assured that’s how it went. I’ll add that this song has been with me from vinyl to cassette twice, CD, and now digital. The message of social intolerance and how it does not have to be the way is one that has been burned into my soul through the hundreds of times I’ve heard this song and a lifetime of appreciating the gifts that all people have to offer. I believe, “good people are good, bad is bad.” Skin color does not define either.

With the sweat flowing, I took in what was before me. There are two buildings at the top of the long hill that is Ways Lane. On the right side is a Boy’s Scout’s hall. It looks like an old school or church. There are three large windows on each side, a sagging roof over the addition in the back, and one of the most industrial doors I had seen in some time. It’s a place for people to come together, to learn service, and at times an example of intolerance and exclusionary practices.

On the left is the stone Italian American Social Club. There is a spacious parking lot and a fine picnic space behind the main building with its covered porch and a cabana separated by nearly twenty-five picnic tables. I’m not Italian and I’ve never been to such a social club, so the inside of the building is foreign to me, but I bet it does not reflect the important contributions of the Latino community to the prosperity that allowed the Italian settlers of this community to move up the agri-business pecking order and erect such a permanent structure to their community.

Curiously, I noticed that through a thin line of trees behind the cabana, there is a financial management company that is full of cash. I’ve heard of this firm and I know that it often contributes to causes it deems worthy, but the parking lot, with its high-end cars, was hidden very well behind a wall of trees. As I passed the first two buildings, the scenery began to change.

Next on the tour was a barely functioning tractor trailer repair shop. On this day, all of the bays were closed and all of the junker tractors in the lot where open and rusting. Next, was a hovel of old houses packed onto a clean lot. Some of the houses were repurposed mushroom houses and the biggest house was in the greatest disrepair. Its glassed-in front porch sported cracks and missing panes, while the front door had cardboard taped over its window.

Again, curiously, directly across the street was a new mushroom growing facility. The clean cinder block, shiny HVAC units, and giant electrical converters showed that this farm was state of the art and it seemed to be an insult to the people living in the ramshackle that was across the street. At this point, the asphalt of the road began to crumble and degenerated into nothing more than a dirt road located just a half mile or so from million dollar homes in one direction and the center of town in the other.

Finally, I made it to the bottom of the hill and saw where all of the old mattresses and couches go when the sanitation companies won’t pick them up. They next to the railroad tracks that once brought people to town. Now, it’s just freight trains passing through.

I turned and made the walk back home. I talked to my voice memo app with anger as I became more aware of the differences in the classes on this particular walk. I got angry thinking that this one street is marginalized because of the people who live there, because of the work they do, because of the location of their homes. My angst didn’t pass as I passed through the affluence back to my house. It has carried with me for many days and today was the first day that I could put capture my thoughts in what has hopefully been a meaningful way.

The walk was an exercise of suffering, a suffering of realizing that “me” is the prevailing attitude everywhere, yet, there are so many who don’t really have a chance for no reason on than they are not able to have communion with the rest of nature. It’s shameful that in an area with such abundance, there can be such different life opportunities for people.

We can do better.

#1

He said, “It’s all about the questions.”

I knew he was right, but I had my doubts about whether I wanted to answer the questions or not. Sometimes honesty has a hard time for those with a lack of confidence in personal matters.

“It’s the rabbit holes, that’s where the oil is, black gold, Beverly Hillbillies kind of stuff. You’ve got to go there to know.”

I was lost. The days of getting by with a simple throwaway line where gone. Twenty-four hours after being verbally assaulted by a kid I knew from long ago as to whether people can truly, “just survive,” or are they destined to greatness by the role they play in society and I could feel those insecure feelings coming on again.

I went for some distraction, “Come on, let’s go to Pet Value and see if we can relive life circa ’08. Little did I know, that answers happen with a randomness that cannot be explained.

The walk from one outrageously priced department store proved an event. We stopped with our feet surrounding a large, green beetle. It didn’t move, but my son and I knelt next to it. He said, “That’s a big beetle.”

“You’re damn right, I AM a damn-big, green beetle,” said the damn-big, green beetle.

It rubbed its hind legs together and a soft sound rose into the air. The hymn wasn’t really coming from the rubbing of his legs, but rather from the whirr of mosquito wings buzzing. The little bloodsuckers accepted the beetle’s orders, flew in formation, and took aim at my ankle. As they each set to the task of biting where I could barely reach, my ankle began to swell. I was hobbling along with a tomato above my foot. Finally, we were out of range of the mosquitos.

The store was uneventful. The cats made for inappropriate humor that might play well in Nevada, but nowhere else. In fact, I prayed that no one heard our joke lest we are brought up on charges by the social media hit squads that troll the world looking for ways to make everything more miserable than it already is.

We left Pet Value and walked straight across the parking lot without any care for the conventions normally associated with safe parking lot locomotion. Instead of using the sidewalk, we crossed horizontally, ignoring the aisles. More importantly, we protected ourselves from the damn-big, green beetle and his air force of marauding mosquitos. The truck offered us refuge and transportation.

The day ended with some Grateful Dead, Marcus King, and Marshall Tucker talk. What is it about music that keeps things going? The songs, the notes, and the creative energy must tap into a basic life dimension that we somehow miss out on when we are left to the sounds of our own voices. We use music to venture into other places, silencing self-talk and quieting all of our silly personal inquiry. Maybe, today was my first attempt at answering my questions. Music is a part of what I am.

Peace.