Friday, March 29, 2013

The Turret

Doctor Phillips held the door open. “I’ll be right outside if you need me. Good luck.”

~ This room is amazing! 2,4,6. Eight windows, nearly floor to ceiling! This is the turret I saw when I drove in; we must be at the back of the house. And that woodwork! Hand carved I’m sure, with at least a dozen coats of varnish!

I must step softly, I don’t want to frighten him. Why is he facing away from me. Wouldn’t it have been better to have him… No matter.

He looks healthy enough, and clean, shaven, but so much older. God, has it been that long?

“Jerry? Jerry, it’s John. Remember? Your brother?”

He’s not moving, not even looking up. Well I knew this wouldn’t be easy. I feel like I’m blocking his view. He’s looking right through me.

“Jerry? I know I haven’t been around much. But that’s going to change now. My work has brought me closer, I just live down the way, in Barlow; I promise I will visit as often as I can.”

Maybe if I touched him. Maybe he’ll feel reassured. God, I want to touch him, to hug him, my poor Jerry, life’s so cruel. I’ll just touch my fingers to his face. Slowly.

“Jerry? Jerry, it’s John.”

What’s that on his forehead. Oh my God, that’s sweat. He’s showering sweat. His lips are moving, quivering, he’s going to say s…

“PLEASE?”

Did he just say please? It sounded like, like a screech. I can’t do this, I have to go.

“Jerry, I’m so sorry. I’ll be back, I promise.”

The door, the door.

“It’s alright doc, I just need some air, I’ll be back after a time.”

…………………………………………………………………..

Jerry felt the breeze on the back of his neck.

~ Don’t go little men. Why are you rushing off? Are you afraid!

Kalomp, Kalomp, Kalomp, Kalomp, Kalomp…

I’m afraid too. AFRAID! Something’s coming! I don’t want to look! Can’t it go away? It’s a man! A huge man! It’s so dark in here, I can barely see him. He looks mean, like he hasn’t had his breakfast, Like he hasn’t had his oatmeal and bananas and juice. Juicy juice.

What’s he saying? Jayee? TV? I could watch TV. I could watch TV right now in fact. Doctor Phillips says… why are the little folk hiding behind the furniture. Did I do something wrong? Did I scare them? I’M scared! That man! That beast! He keeps talking and talking and talking!

No. Noooo! Look at that! He’s reaching for me! He’s going to hurt me! He’s going to crush me! Help me little men, HELP! Please don’t hurt me mister! I’ll be good! You won’t even know I’m here! I’ll watch TV. Yes, I promise! Oh, he’s still re… he’s going to grab me! Please mister!

I must cross the border! I must go to the other side! I must…

“PLEASE!”

Kalomp Kalomp Kalomp Kalomp…

He’s gone now. It’s safe now. Safe. Now. For now.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Can't Get There From Here

I took Lin to dinner tonight. We haven't gone out much lately because of finances so I figured we were due. She asked me while there a question whose origin is a mystery to me, but one that was easy to answer despite how it should have seemed. "If you could start all over, like from your teens, and money wasn't an issue, what do you think you'd be doing now?"

"You mean would I go to college and what would I take if I did?"

"Exactly."

I admit I did daydream for perhaps 30 seconds, various disciplines and their assorted careers flashing before my mind's eye, until a bolt of lightening interrupted my scanning the horizon. First off, brutally honest, I doubt I'd have ever graduated college, even if I had made the effort to join the in crowd. My concentration is crap, my study habits abysmal and my will to live suspect. I would likely have gotten middling grades at best and been so despondent over the obvious fact that a degree based on mediocrity would only land me a job I would know only enough about to hate, that I'd have quit midstream anyway. (Based on my record I'd have stuck it out until I was only a few credits from my BA and then started the dean's office on fire or pissed in his tropical fish tank)

But the real answer had nothing to do with college, or talent, or anything else having to do with financial forward motion. I was not born with the Alpha gene. Even had I finished in the top ten of my class, even had I gone on to the appropriate doctorate degree, I would never have been able to push my way through doors and prance my thoroughbred-ness to prospective employers, because I'm just not built that way. I would venture that I'm no Beta either. Oh I can lead and or follow when necessary, if there's a pressing need and no one else will step up, but neither is my bent. I'd call myself a gamma, a lone wolf. (Now at this point I'm sure someone can and perhaps will correct me by naming what I am based on the scientific x academic models of Greek Letterage, but in the meantime I'll stick with Gamma)

It's a little like my theory on the idea that you shouldn't pay attention to what others think of you. That of course would be absolutely true, were you the only human being on the planet, or if your future depended on you alone, you control monkey you. As it is, at least in my life, what I've thought of myself has never mattered much, or at least AS much as others' opinion. It affects relationships, jobs and general welfare and all the self esteem I can muster won't buy me an air mattress to sleep on. The only relevance to this paragraph is that an Alpha dog has the ability, generally, to create a better impression through aggressive actions. A Gamma hangs back, content to wait for the golden goose to come falling from the sky and land on him or her, showing the Gamma's hidden powers and good karma magnetism, prodding all within visual range to flock around and adopt the Gamma as a friend, high paid employee and good luck charm.

I could have a doctorate in music and never have the wherewithal to join a band. I could be a rocket scientist, and find myself at 65 having landed a spaceship on the moon, but one that I created in my garage and launched from my backyard with only a few neighbors and relatives watching. Just as I'm the guy who may write four or five books, and if I were to be "discovered" as an author worthy of a mass audience, it won't be until well after I and my wife are dead, leaving no one to collect royalties but the bastards who publish my works claiming intellectual copyright forfeit by lack of heirs. In other words, were I to start over and money weren't a problem, I'd still wind up being the same loser I am today only I might be able to say I'm a college dropout rather than a high school type.

I thanked Linda for asking me the question, keeping the "loser" thing to myself as she wouldn't want to be reminded. She got every word, unlike some speeches I make. She's a woman that does have a degree, was Suma Cum, and never worked in her profession because she couldn't get aggressive with the "job market"; she couldn't force herself into "the niche". She has it rougher than I really. She coulda been a contender. I was always gonna be a ne'er-do-well.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Novelty Candy

She was a mess. I suppose I was as well, but in my case I was just passing through psychological squalor; she made her home in it (and continues to live there to this day).

She’d have liked folks to believe she’d left her mother’s to live with her father as a step in a “right” direction, a choice born of the desire to put the world right and foster a new beginning. We knew. She’d have gladly been on her own were she able to support herself and her various vices, but for the moment hoped that she could leach off her dad as her mother had finally shown her the door.

If I were not living at his house at the time, a victim of my own financial hubris, I’d never have met the girl; but as it was I owed my benefactor so I tried to act as a go between, a diplomat charged with relaying messages from one misunderstood side to the other, and as a watchdog for the girl who for some reason seemed to relate to me. I suppose Candy found me a novelty, an elder who’d treat her as a peer. Luckily she never understood I was simply playing my part. She was as much my peer as I am a rocket scientist.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lies!



Lies! I saw it in her eyes! Like that’s some big surprise!
She slept with all those guys I know, just counting gave me vertigo
Bold! She claims that I’m too old! She whines I’m too controlled!
As if she’d married mold; the wench! For her I love in fluid French!

If she leaves me I’ll be sad. She could find a guy named Chad;
Have four kids all named for trees, inheriting her mean disease.
They could flirt with politics and run for office just for kicks.
One could be the president, then I could see imprisonment! 
Because I wrote about his mom he’d fake that I had built a bomb! 
And stick me in Guantanamo where evil meanies all… must… go!!!!!!!

Great! I filed my taxes late! And cheated on my rate!
And since she sees our life a mess, I’ll bet she’s called the IRS!
Damn! I heard a car door slam! I’d best be on the lam!
It could be Uncle Sam I think, she’d squeal on me, the Rat! The Fink!

Why is she so mean to me? In constant marriage truancy?
I’m not so bad, I pay my way, I never hit, I never stray.
Why don’t girls like pleasant guys of average looks and average size?
I guess it’s cuz we’re not much fun; we pay our debts, we get things done.
We’re not too naughty, much too clean, a little balding, seldom lean.
I guess I knew it all along, I should have spurned her siren song.

Dash! She’s coming for my cash! She’s bound to find my stash!
She’ll turn my life to ashen waste and have my countenance erased!
Doh! I loved the woman so, and now I need to blow.
To save myself I’ll go, but weep for promises I couldn’t keep.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hazel's War

Ray knew he was supposed to leave it in a drawer somewhere, or neatly packed away in a box. It was meant as a memorial not a consumable. But Ray was never concerned with convention.

Hazel’s flag draped the east outer wall of Ray’s garage for almost 35 years, until Ray himself had passed in his 71st year. By then it was little more than a tattered, faded rag, and though it was technically illegal to allow the stars and bars to be displayed in such a degenerated fashion, no one had even mentioned it to its owner, not even the local commandant of the VFW.

The funeral home would have nothing to do with it, so I was forced to do my business at his open coffin following the church service. None of the ten people in attendance minded when I set the shard atop his sunken chest, nor did they squawk when I slipped into his fingers the last photo taken of his darling mate, killed in action while ferrying one final corsair to the west coast only days before the war in the Pacific ground to a halt.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Poetry in Four Chimes



Four chimes; though the clock is a dozen yards from me and with the house I hear the resonance of its last hammer strike ring over the methodical whiz of meshed gears, marching on, oblivious. My boot soles grind the concrete stoop as I stop to ponder another dawn, my corduroy pants zip along the gravel and mortar until my behind is in place and contently positioned.

The overwhelming sound is of a nearby electrical transformer, one mule in the city’s million mule power grid, humming low and long a monotonous sixty cycle tone. A motorcycle cranks, then starts. By the echo it must be blocks away, a BSA Lightning if I were to guess, with mufflers in serious need of repair and a motor short one quart of oil. A lone bus passes on Lake street, the Chi-Lake number 22, brakes squeaking, engine cover chattering, warming up for one more day of moving the masses.

Two dings; a car has pulled into the Clark Oil station next door, the low thud of its exhaust nearly masking the scraping footsteps of the attendant. “Whaddya have” comes a very sleepy voice followed by a quick “fillerup”. I hear a low pitched slow moving squeak as the pump jockey pries open a rusty gas tank cover, then a clatter of metal on metal as he inserts the nozzle.

“Smokes?”

“Inside, be right there.”

A car door’s handle is pulled. With a "scree", the door opens and then slams shut. Sneakers shuffle on tar, squeal as the wearer moves from driveway to linoleum flooring. I can hear each pump number click in place as pennies turn to dimes to quarters to dollars and more. With a clink, the pump comes to a stop. At each moment of silence, the drone of the transformer seems to get louder so as to fill the space; rapidly disappearing as the next tone comes into being. A mourning dove coos, answered by the arpeggiated whistle of a tiny goldfinch. Dawn is close, the chatter has begun.


From this spot one can always smell the scent of transportation. Oil and gasoline, exhaust and burnt rubber; the smell of poor men's money being swallowed by the earth. It’s rained recently; mold is in the air, soaking up the life’s blood, cloning itself again and again. Must, and its rank counterpart rot hang loosely near the edge of my building where trash lays piled, having been littered into place by the unthinking and slovenly customers of the nearby business. Still, I’m inundated by the overlying pungent odor of ozone, almost metallic; it's like sticking one’s nose into an old tin can. More rain is coming; the nose knows.

Soon, the reason I’ve made myself stumble outside at this ungodly hour becomes apparent. I close my eyes and slowly breathe in the sweet aroma. It’s warm and heavenly; it pushes aside even the strongest and most noxious smells and replaces them with olfactory ambrosia. I cross my legs, lean back and pace my inhales and exhales, as if I were a machine taking air quality samples, or an automated blacksmith fireplace bellows.

It is 4:15. The Emrich bakery a half block away is now fully engaged in baking the morning’s goods, slipping the finished products into balloon covered plastic bags… but not before the amazing scent of fresh baked bread leaks skyward en masse, and travels downwind; flowing over my tired body like a river of happiness. Senses are only as good as we let them be. Sometimes you just have to give one room to explore on their own.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Good to Practice

Jennifer was serious. At least she seemed to be. I wasn’t sure how to react.

“Please? Just yell at me will you? Be vulgar and cruel. Raise your voice. Wave your fist a little like you really want to smack me, but you can hold yourself back, barely. Scare me a little if you can! Can you do that for me?”

“You mean like I’m your pimp or something? I hate to sound stupid but…”

“No, no” she interrupted, “just a generic thing like you know me and I’ve done you wrong, cut you to the quick… you know. Come on John, I really need this..”

It’s not often I’ve listened to Jenn doing crazy talk. It scared me a little. What if I’d married a fetishist? What if this was some game to play and then she’ll rip off my clothes and scratch through a few layers of my skin on her way to an orgasm. I mean I like sex and all but…

“Please?”

I pretended as if she’d been badgering me all night, some petty request or incessant nag. I let loose on her like a napalm fire hose, at least twice shouting for over three minutes without a breath between paragraphs. I got louder and louder, eventually pounding my fist on the table.

She quivered, bit her lip, tensed up. Tears reached out to be free, but she held them back with the strength of a hundred Xenas. Finally, I was exhausted and plopped into my kitchen chair.

I had to pant my question a word at a time. “Is that what you wanted?”

She smiled while dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a tissue. “That was perfect. Thanks honey.”

“Are you gonna tell me now what this was all about?”

“Sure.” She hesitated. I imagined the worst. Maybe she'll demand a divorce and thought to expel my steam beforehand. Maybe she was secretly a masochist and was training me to abuse her.

“I have to terminate Wilcox tomorrow, and I just wanted to prepare for his response.”

That’s my Jenny, always one step ahead.

Friday, March 22, 2013

On About a Linda Day

It was a Linda Day yesterday. Yea, I know, it does seem like almost every day's a Linda day doesn't it?

:p

We had Belgian waffles and fried Spam for breakfast. Apologies to my Belgian friends, I wasn't like eating your effigies or anything (Though when I eat Brussels sprouts it's everything I can do to not see your little faces in them:) Fried Spam baby. Ain't nothin like it! (And by the way, what's the deal with using an apostrophe in the correct place for a word that's incorrect on its face I wonder)

Then it was separate and go to our own corners until noonish, when we cut up a batch of summer sausage and swiss cheese to go with a couple handfuls of water crackers (that Linda loves and I can't abide but I have ta humor her cuz it's Linda day for God's sake) and then settled down to watch the movie I had selected, a lovely tale about a happy family and their aversion to chainsaws, Winter's Bones.

Now it's true this is a sort of depressing movie (though it was a little like a homecoming for me. These are my people! At least those I was within range of when I was pretending to be an outlaw biker) I've been in those houses and I've shared those secrets and it made me nervous to watch it but the performances were so real I could swear I'd been eatin Water crackers right with em. So it was ok cuz I knew we have different taste though we both like each others' and I was sure she'd have come up with a girly movie (chick flick for you young hipsters) for the Linda Day dinner showing so it would be balanced out! Then, off to our corners again while we mentally prepared for the ultimate challenge of "Married Couple Scrabble"! I did the email thing, a terribly productive break activity, and she disassembled the Christmas tree, a terribly frivolous half hour, but what-r ya gonna do. Marriage is filled with compromise.

Then the games! She loves games. I like games when there are 4 or more players (Unless it's pool) but she absolutely drools over games. So of course, she constantly proposes that I hate games or I just don't want to play games with her or I think games are stupid so people that love games are stupid which means naturally that I think she's stupid and why do I think she's stupid it's so unfair and mean?!?!? Therefore on Linda Day, we don't talk about games, we PLAY them. Happily!. First, pool. Now she grew up with a family pool table; one of those leany, tilty things in a too tight, mildewy basement, where hitting a ball with some finesse might cause the cue ball to do loop-d-loops around the ball you were trying to hit, and whose pockets fell onto a piece of chipboard that was supposed to be tilted at such a perfect angle that the balls sunk would roll right to one end where they would be just conveniently waiting for the next racking, while in reality would flop apart every 3rd ball and send the offending piece of plastic to the floor, bouncing across the concrete until it would find an irretrievable resting spot well underneath a piece of stored furniture which invariably weighs a ton. This history, so she thinks, makes her an expert pool player.

I on the other hand, perfected my skills playing 12 year olds at random beer bars in the depths of the Wisconsin outback. These little creeps would spend their entire non school lives behind a cue (cuz daddy spent his suckin down suds and if'n ya had to sit there cuz momma ran off with the Mexican roofers and left you two to fend for yourselves, ya might as well do sumpthin fun) and so would be so good that even Minnesota Fats would have a hard time yankin a buck from the winner's kitty. Eventually I grew to be so good that untalented but billiard aficionado friends would call me when some jerk was keeping the table to himself and beating all comers while pretending to be just your average Joe, so I'd come kick his ass and take the table back for them, hopefully shaming the dink into leaving the bar and perhaps even the State forever. So, obviously, Linda has no chance against me.

We played. She pissed and moaned. I gloated. We moved on to Scrabble. (Yes, two games. It's Linda Day remember?)

Now I won't go into great detail about my prowess at Scrabble. Let's just say this. Linda will occasionally write little notes to herself on our calendar. I have published a book of poetry. Nuff said. If she wants to punish herself in the name of Linda Day, who am I to stand in her way?

Finally, dinner. Linda makes incredible chili. Damn near my mothers' actually, but even better. Since good chili may be the most relative food group on the planet, I'll skip the recipe here, but suffice it to say we were both well pleased to fill our bowls to the brim, sprinkle on a little cheese, grab a few dozen saltines and make our way to the living room where the girly movie could be seen and happiness might ensue. Well gosh, I was slightly off base. She doesn't pay attention to trailers as they whiz by on the TV screen, so she doesn't hit the Redbox with a list of titles in her head. Searching out a film is a difficult project for her, made all the more difficult by the line of people standing behind her at the grocery store kiosk, mumbling how long she's taking. So sometimes she just grabs for the recognizable stars and the first line of synopsis. This night? "Revolutionary Road" with Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. A happy movie if I'd ever seen one!!! Actually, I love dramas, the grittier the better. I love seeing actors stretch. So this was a perfect film for me, though I have to say it was like reliving my childhood, but that meant I watched two movies in one day that were about MY PEOPLE so how could that be a bad thing!

It was a lovely day, a real Linda Day, capping off what was I suppose a Linda WEEK of inlaw adventure and plenty of bending over to please on my part. I'm exhausted now. I think I'll take a nap. You can call that a Ron Moment if you like. I don't get a whole day:)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ernest Got Her Goat

Amalie cast the spell with a great roar and mighty fluttering of fingers. When the enormous puff of smoke wafted to the east, there in the center of the blood drawn pentagram stood a miniature goat. Amalie screamed. The goat fainted dead away.

“What the… I followed the instructions to the letter!”

“You’re one man short I think” said her brother Magnus.

“One, two three four five six! No, I have six dead bodies, three men and three women!”

“Well no, that third one is my blow up doll Ernest. I was using him as a placeholder so it’d look like I was finished and you wouldn’t yell at me again. I didn’t expect you to cast the stupid spell without asking me!”

“That’s just great! I can only do the spell once ya know! I was supposed to get Satan, and all I get is a damned goat!”

“Yea, but he’s a cute goat” Magnus protested as he ducked his head barely keeping it on his shoulders as Amalie swung her specially made witch broom handle scythe in his direction. “And look! He faints!!!”

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Teach, Baby

I was not the guy they wanted to bed. Nor the guy they wanted to wed. I was the buddy, the pal, the responsible one, the guy that actually showed up during times of trouble, and serious boredom.

Nitch was the second of four. The second unwed mother I’d accompanied to the hospital to stand in for their boy toys who couldn’t “do the time” for various reasons. Nitch was the strongest, the one with an iron grip during labor, who took my offered flesh and crushed each cell one by one as if they were bubble wrap pockets; the only girl who left a scar I can still see 43 years later.

It was her daughter, wheeled so close to the glass during my viewing that she’d been able to plant the sole of her right foot on its pristine surface, who’d moved me to see my fate as not a burden but an accidental miracle. Until then it was a job, my duty, all about me; and the mothers of course, those objects of my unrequited loves and such silliness.

I bent to one knee to inspect the teeny footprint left on the window, stunned by how perfect it was, how detailed, how like my own in miniature. Suddenly it was all about them, the innocents, born to slugs and wenches without so much as a “is that ok with you?” I occurred to me that at 17 years, in spite of my opinion to the contrary, I didn’t
actually know shit after all. But I was learning.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Ticket Holder

They were my tickets. I had bought a pair of seasons for three years in a row. Of course I'd gotten divorced after the first year so I went to a lot of games alone, but once in a while I'd invited a random friend who might accept a night in my company.

Then they ran a contest between periods, and my seat was called. Actually, Steve's seat was called. It was an instantaneous reaction. I'd bought it, it was my seat. The only reason he was sitting in it was by my benevolence. So obviously, I should be the one playing in the contest, one which would end with one of four spectators winning a new car!

I took the ticket stub without argument and made my way to the ice. And all the way I felt miserable. I was a fraud, a cheat. All that crap I'd always preached about honesty and fairness and "doing the right thing" had just been tossed aside for a stupid chance to win a stupid car.

I lost. Of course. I was almost relieved. Had I won I would have had to sell the thing and at least split the money with my friend, who by all rights would have been the winner had I not been so manipulatively selfish. Or at least that's what I told myself all the while I was waiting to see if I were the winner. I have to wonder if I'd have honored my own secret, self made promise.

Nothing is simple in my world. Every breath has consequences.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Giving 'Till it Hurts


The jagged canine juts from Mother Earth’s exposed jaw, a dark, foreboding stone in the center of a 30 mile round dirt pancake. Shiprock they call it and the town attached to its jawline. The Navajo called it Tsé Bit a í, or Winged Rock. Whites thought it resembled a clipper ship’s sails. I only saw it as a distraction, the only thing visible on the horizon for hours, a lighthouse buoy in a sea of dust.

Bored, I’d decided to count the breaths I’d need to inhale while passing from one end of town to the other. I reached the number one. A few breaths later though the world lit up in reds and blues as a squad car slipped in between my Shadow and the village border. He was obviously unhappy. He passed it on to me, as is the custom.

A few hours before I’d been rocketing through the last of Colorado at slightly over 110 miles per hour. And now? I was being tagged for 56 in a 55. Some might think of it as karma. I’d describe it more as revenue enhancement. No doubt the town needed a new “Welcome Visitors” sign, and I’d just been anointed the latest reluctant benefactor.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Clifford John





I barely knew him. I was only 11+ when he died and can't deliver a eulogy. But I do remember a few things, and thinking about him gave me an interesting observation about life, well my life anyway.

Clifford John Branigan was a typical handsome first generation American, Irishman. I've pictures of him from the 30's standing on the stoop of "gramma's house"; A fine, dark, pinstripe three piece suit set off by the white stucco background, one foot up a step or two, leaning forward as if to rest on one knee or perhaps kiss some child's forehead as a candidate for public office. He appeared a perfect John Dillinger, dapper and crafty and as Irish as his name would portend.


He'd been a jeweler when young and one of my prize possessions is an ad torn from a 30's newspaper, yellowed and curly now, but there he is representing his firm in public. Why he stopped that line of work I'm not sure, but he became a postman and ran from hungry dogs for the rest of his life.

I really only remember one time that he and I were together alone. I'm sure there were others, but I am thick as a brick. Memory is not my strong suit some days.

They lived within 3 blocks of a massive park, Powderhorn, complete with a small lake and island, ball fields and a fine park headquarters building sporting a concessionaire and 24 hour toilets, not that the two have anything in common...or do they? In any case it was the site of my first urinal usage, a proud moment for any young man.

This was the gathering place for 4th of July fireworks, a magnificent display dwarfing the humdrum that that we call fireworks nowadays. It also was picnic heaven with WPA built concrete tables and benches dug into steep hills, massive elm trees shading every blade of grass and thick stands of shrubbery that served as cover while playing war with a few of the scores of kids that would always be available.


The lake became an oval track in winter where Olympic speed skaters practiced at times. Until the mid fifties a pair of horses would chain pull a wide blade, the driver standing on its upper edge, steering with his feet to shave the ice into race condition; perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs in America.


It was here that Cliff took me to fish. It was my first attempt at the sport; I was maybe 6 years old. We walked from the house up, and then down steep hills to the edge of Powderhorn Lake, poles and tackle box in hand, and a goodie bag that Grandma had packaged for us. I was far more interested in what the contents of the bag were than in catching fish no doubt. He may have been as well.


A three foot concrete wall built just after the depression bordered a small strip of sand littered with the fallen branches of nearby cottonwoods, and a few dead bullheads mingled with seaweed and everyday refuse stood between the waters and the grass. We sat on the lip of the wall where, in a futile gesture, he showed me proper knot tying.

Ready for anything, weapons charged, worms attached we jumped from the wall stoop to the beach. I should say I jumped, his enthusiasm likely tempered by his arthritis. Luckily I had scouted ahead because monsters lay in wait below.


I've never seen these since but I remember them as plain as day. Tiny spiders, opaque specks with legs really, ran up my legs by the thousands, all aiming for my tender spots.

Within seconds I'd been smothered in arachnid and I was screaming bloody murder, running up and down the beach looking for a way back onto the grass, within range of my holy protector, Clifford John. I probably thought that they would all leap off me once seeing their beloved beachfront home pass from view, only to run back to the sand to burrow, their hunger soon building for the next fool who might trespass.

It doesn't matter what my intentions were, my avatar was not going to help me defend from these 8 legged villains. He was busy. He was rolling on the ground, arms wrapped around his gut, knees up and laughing louder than I thought humanly possible.

I was crying, overcome with fear, ripping my clothes off in case one of these icky things had found its way to the inward side of my jockeys, and grandpa was laughing his Irish ass off. So much for Lord High Protector.


I cried at his funeral, nearly all day in fact. But honestly, I didn't have a clue what death was yet; I was far too busy crying about life and its trappings to care about the final crossing of the river. I cried because my mother wept, she being the love of his life and mine, and he being her hero, and therefore mine as well.


I cried because grandma was crying and she was a German, if she was crying there must be a reason as a good German never showed negative emotion. Little did I know that once the fourth child had been born Cliff had been excused from fertility duty, tossed from his shared bed, never to be touched in "that way" again. I'd had no idea that any conversation the couple had was only what was necessary to sustain life, pay bills and keep each other at bay; though perhaps I should have understood about an elder male's unreasonable crabbiness being most likely a mirror of his sex life.


I cried because my aunts were crying, my sisters were crying, pretty much every female in my life that I loved.
What's interesting to me now is the thought that my grief had become an empathy cry, an innocent teaming with those who needed comfort and expressed it visibly. I had no idea why I was sobbing really, I barely knew the guy, grandpa or no. But I felt the need to add to the chorus, to join my family, my sadness adding to their comfort, their need to not be alone. It was a good cry, perhaps my last of that ilk. It was devoid of all the taint I'd smother grief in now, knowing what I know, cynicism poised to strike.


I didn't even need to consider that he’d been a barfly flirt, once retired from active sex, making friends with all the ladies that would give him the time of day, and they all would because he was...well, he was Irish. Not that he did anything with his buddies that I know of, but adultery is measured by each of us with our own tape. At 11+, who knows what my line would have been. No matter, I didn't know and once he'd died and God Himself had absolved him of his sins, who was I to hold him to account.


I'd never have known of my Hibernian ties had I not found my past important to my future; few of the Branigans have ever made issue of our heritage. But I did; it's as much a part of who I am as my Norse and Germanic characteristics, and the most romantic I must admit. Even the locale of his father's birth, "The Parish of Kilcoo, County Down" is enough to make my eyes glaze in green, and set me to dreaming of tiny, paved roads weaving past a thousand boulder bordered plots of Emerald Isle, one of which was worked by those whose blood runs in my veins. I would give a day of what's left of my life to just breathe the air they breathed, to touch a single blade of the grass they walked on. Not because I worship them in some ridiculous way, but to pay them tribute for persevering, for having the strength to leave all they knew, that their children would have a better chance at life. They deserve at least my written thanks for that.


I think about Clifford now through the tinted glasses of that history. His father John, was born near Belfast an Irish catholic, and as was their lot, became a farmer eking out a modest living on a small plot of rock and dirt owned by Protestant landlords.


I imagine that brilliant green sod nestled within walls of unmortered stone, carefully sliced open and sown with hope for a winter free from hunger. I picture John Branigan, John's father and his father before him, leaning against the walls of a crudely stuccoed, flawlessly white house; sharing a toast, glasses filled with thick stout capped with white/yellow foam.


I see the wives and children singing Gaelic tunes, entertaining their mostly hard working, sometimes honest, always presentable men.

Then all revelry stops as the crowd turns, a figure approaching from over the rise to the east. It's Clifford, young and blindingly handsome, witty and unbearably charming, tall and slender, a workin' man to be sure. He's a duffel over one shoulder and waves to his family as he walks toward the "green, green grass of home".


They meet, shout, hug and cry in joy, glasses clinking and refilling as he takes his rightful place beside those he loves, those that love him dearly. He turns in my direction, finding me standing quietly across the glen and he smiles, then chuckles a bit and feigns casting a line from an imaginary rod and reel.


Then he steps back a bit, moving the stout into his left hand and dropping his right arm toward the ground. He opens that hand, palm outstretched and moves it left to right slowly, all the while staring a smile into my heart. I know exactly what he means and as the thought strikes me, John and the others turn and add their approval to the gesture. I barely knew him, and never the others. But I am loved, wanted, family above all else; and I love back, smiling my acknowledgment and thanks, doffing my hat and bowing low as is the custom.


There is a space for me here...when I'm ready. A place to call home.