I dropped by the Salvation Army store after work. It was the location that I would choose last if I were going for a better selection. As it turns out, I was completely wrong. Time hasn’t been kind to that area of Springdale. I lived near there more than once and my head and heart have many memories of the area.
I found a suit coat immediately. Because I’m much smaller now, I picked up the one I liked. And it fit. It complements my favorite vest, too. I promised myself that when I lost weight, I was going back to my eclectic (weird) way of dressing. Until today, I bought my other ones new. For a combination of reasons, suit vests and coats are more difficult to find.
I’m not sure if I will have another pair of pants with one leg altered to end mid-thigh and the other full-length though. I might. Years ago, the seamstress looked at me like I was crazy when I told her I wanted one leg to be mid-thigh shorts and the other full-length leg. She did it, though. If you’re picturing me conducting a series of shenanigans to catch people off guard, yes, you’d be right.
Today, I went around the long coat rack, with a motley assortment of quality, colors, and styles. My eyes went directly to a dark coat with a set of vertical floral designs. Without hesitation, I knew it was the coat for me.
I walked over to the cracked mirrored column and twirled around. Two Latina women watched in amusement. They were a little startled a few minutes later when I spoke to them in Spanish. Is the coat really for you, they asked. Heck yes, I told them. We all laughed.
Looking closer, I realized that the buttons were on the wrong side. And that it was clearly in a section for women. I picked it up and tried it on. Great fit.
And one of the large front buttons was missing.
In another admission, I don’t currently own a ‘real’ winter coat.
But now? I own this fabulous floral coat, one which clearly indicates what I’m all about.
I’ll leave it to you to decide what that might be.
It was barely noon on an unassuming Tuesday, under a bright January sky, one warring with both sapphire and translucent clouds, in front of a store where passersby failed to notice that a moment was within their reach if they’d only pause, appreciate, and listen.
Almost no one took notice. Each hurried past, taking sideways glances at the older busker with his guitar cradled in his hands, the case propped open on the ground adjacent to the bench on which he perched.
Entering the store with my attention diverted, I didn’t pause. The musician was silent upon my entrance. My mind swirled with the details of what might interest me.
As I exited the store with my cart, the air filled with chords and a broken voice singing simple words. It’s hard to mimic the simplicity of a simple melody, especially when the voice accompanying it has walked countless miles and endured unimaginable heartache. We all recognize such voices. While we might appreciate the songbirds who sing effortlessly, it is difficult to deafen our ears to a voice that adds gravel to what most of us find in our hearts.
I walked the long parking lot, almost to the outer perimeter abutting the access road. The busker’s voice receded to a whisper behind me. I threw my scant purchases into the car and walked back. Giving the musician time to finish his song, I handed him $20 and asked if he knew any Merle Haggard. He sheepishly said he didn’t, which surprised me. Merle’s voice accompanying his would have been akin to walking into an old country church to find the place filled to the rafters with song, the kind any voice could join without embarrassment.
I told him, “Surprise me.” And he did.
I walked around the column and wall behind him and leaned against it as he played. It wasn’t Merle. But it was more. As the song ended, he tentatively leaned around and said, here’s one I wrote called “Ball and Chain.”
As people entered and exited the storefront, as they drove by and looked in our direction, the older man sang his song. And then another, one probably chosen because of my initial request.
As he played “Horse With No Name,” I realized I never thought of the song that way before. As sometimes happens, I heard the song for the first time through the man’s voice. As the chords diminished and the strings went quiet, I walked over and handed him another $20. “God bless you,” he told me, making eye contact. I could tell he genuinely meant it. “God bless you, too,” I told him – and not reflexively, either.
Though you might not understand why, I confess that there were tears in my eyes as I pivoted and walked away.
A took a piece of the sapphire sky with me as I left, tucked away as a memory I know I will retain. I looked across the expanse of the parking lot and saw the man singing another song. He probably wondered who I am and what my story might be. I’m a man with no name – but a lot of moments and memories.
A week ago, I admitted my goal shifted to reaching 168 lbs. I’m chunking that again. My new goal is 160. That is what success does: it stains other areas with the desire for more.
In the last week, I went to 175, a weight I always imagined as something wildly desirable but impossibly difficult. I haven’t weighed less than 175 since after high school.
Losing weight is supposed to be more challenging with age.
I guess it is. I just wouldn’t know.
In 3 months, I dropped over 50 lbs. It’s not the best way, but fighting from the middle ground would have been another failure for me. Lucky for me, this time followed an episode of realization. Absent that realization, and this wouldn’t have happened. I still don’t expect people to ‘get it.’ After explaining it a few dozen times, it’s this: I saw myself as thin and also pictured that it was ‘the’ me I should have been my entire adult life. I couldn’t see myself making poor decisions that led me away from the vision of that life. So far, it has been entirely sufficient. That ‘me’ in the indefinite future continues to free me from the pangs of willpower.
It was also in that moment that I realized that despite biting my nails for 50+ years, I didn’t do that anymore, either. It’s a shame I didn’t visualize being a millionaire in that moment.
I still can’t figure out how to write a book and make millions.
“Have an LSD trip without the LSD and just do it” would undoubtedly result in a lawsuit. “Don’t put stuff in your mouth” is another possible book title. (You have to appease the vulgar-minded, too.)
Today, I watched a naysayer’s eyes as he realized that I don’t possess superpowers or anything he doesn’t. Previously, he preferred to snark at me. Now, he is considering finding himself at my age and being overweight. “It’s all choices,” I told him. “For most of us,” I added, being reminded of what a friend reminded me of a couple of weeks ago. “So what if you fail. Each day that slides past is another day that you won’t know the answer.” And I offered to help him figure out a way to do it. “Choose your hard,” I challenged him. I don’t expect my system to work for everyone. But a modified version of it will work for a hell of a lot of people.
I might not have mentioned that the one thing I’ve tried all year is to ensure that I consume enough fiber, both in food and through supplements. Though you might not believe it, I get my RDA through eating. I take fiber supplements to ensure I do. While I can’t know with certainty, the fiber seems to have worked wonders for me. I mix both psyllium and gummy fibers. Find a mix and diet of high-fiber foods that work for you.
And because I mention this in every post, every bit of my huge weight loss came through diet. No gym visits, no costly supplements, no specialty drinks, and nothing outside of my usual scope of living. While my job is very physical, I would still have realized a significant weight loss if it weren’t. I’ve stuck to the idea that it is unwise to start a habit you can’t continue for as long as you live. If not, as soon as the practice stops, the benefits stop, too.
I like to imagine surviving the last few months at almost 230. I can’t. I’d be on statins, blood pressure medication, and almost certainly facing some calamity with my feet or knees. Taking 50+ lbs off of them rescued me. I don’t want to think about my cardiovascular system, especially against the backdrop of this pandemic. Stress? Forget about it?
I’m almost at my statistical weight. Soon, I will have to turn to my next goal: don’t be a jackass. That one’s going to take a lot of work.
It’s all lemons.
Choose your hard.
Whoever you are, if you want to do something like this under your control, please do. Start today, in the smallest way. Your life is sweeping past you. You are not trapped in the prison of your previous decisions. Those choices and those years cannot be recaptured. It’s gone. Stand up. Embrace. Try. And try again if you fail.
I told the two initially hesitant young people, “Lunch is on me. No, really. No, it’s okay. Just say thanks and have a great day!” The young man said, “Well, okay, thank you!” as a smile almost certainly formed on his face. The young woman with him just widened her eyes in surprise and nodded. She was so demure that she may have spoken – and her voice was so faint it might not have pierced the fabric of her mask. I stepped up to pay for their food and tip and then ordered my food. The cashier got tickled that I tipped on my bill, too. They thanked me again as I walked past to wait for my to-go order. It was a Lemon Moment, one that lightened my beleaguered step.
As I left, even though my right knee still hurt, I hurried down the sidewalk and across the crosswalk, barely recognizing the backdrop of discomfort. The sun was on my back and face and my arm was laden with delicious and healthy food that I would certainly enjoy.
I stopped at the mailbox on the way home. A van was parked in front of the community boxes. As I stepped up to use my key, a voice said, “Hey Pelón!” (He’s Latino and we always speak Spanish as our preferred language. He has much more personality in his native language, too.) I turned to see an old friend smiling at me. We once worked together. The job was often grueling and thankless but many friendships were forged there. He lives in the same neighborhood. In fact, the day he came to see about buying a house, it was me who introduced him to the overall pros and cons of choosing a house here – before he had to suffer the presence of a salesman who didn’t speak Spanish and had no discernible sense of humor. My old friend is moving for a variety of reasons, some of which don’t reflect well on the area. We traded several laughs. Out of left field, he casually told me he has a specific type of cancer. He caught it early and he’s stoic about that sort of thing anyway. Through the laughter, I felt terrible for him. He is a hard worker and left his other job so he could enjoy life more, something I mentioned to him often when we worked together. In the middle of simplifying his life, cancer knocked on his door. Still, we laughed.
I forgot all about my knee for a moment and whispered a word of thanks to the universe. Not because the fickle finger of circumstance chose another, but because in this instance, the person afflicted did not take his selection as an indictment about life. He still laughs. Undoubtedly today – and always.
The food was indeed delicious. The moments, though? Sublime.
Meeting my sister answered so many questions. Not all of them, though. Expecting complete answers at any stage of your life is a denial of the fact that as we change, the same answers can ring hollow or fail to give us satisfaction. We often don’t understand our motives or what led us to those choices, even regarding our own lives. Usually, the simple answer is “nothing.” You might be comforted by realizing such a thing. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that our lives might be a game of pinball, with our choices volleying us across an almost random field. Careful observation of other people’s lives tends to reinforce it, though.
Isn’t it strange that we stridently ask and demand explanations and answers from those who preceded us, even though we well know that there may not be a reason that falls blithely to our hearts?
When we’re young, we falsely believe that the adults and people in our lives somehow have a magic formula for safety and love. Growing up exposes us to the harsh alchemy of people being people, making mistakes, and quite often winging it. In my case, I should stop surprising myself with revelations. At this point, almost any combination of things may be valid. It took me until I was 52 – and in the face of constant argument – to find out that my Dad not only had fathered another child but that he had done so with a girl much younger than he and from a different background. For those of you who understand my hometown’s circumstances, this alone gives ample berth to find credibility in any rumor or suspicion.
It might explain why Dad decided to move everyone to Springdale and Northwest Arkansas for a new life. After he went to Indiana and ended up in prison, he returned to Monroe County to stay. Whether he would farm, be a mechanic, or work one of several other jobs available, he made it clear he was back to stay.
Now, thanks to DNA and an ongoing decision to keep looking, I’ve changed the narrative of how I came to live in this part of the state. Much of my adult life revolves around terrible misbehavior on the part of my Dad. Knowing that I live here due to it changes nothing. Yet, it does make me think about the spiderweb of cause and effect.
In the summer of 1972, we packed up and moved to Northwest Arkansas. It was probably August, not long before school started.
I am convinced that we moved in 1972 primarily because my missing sister was born in May of that year.
If I heard rumors of her when I was younger, they would have been snippets of angry revelation from my Mom or others, probably during a drunken tirade. I did hear hypothetical insinuations, but I don’t recall concrete accusations. Such a truth would have certainly caused a homicide between my Mom and Dad. I have to admit the possibility, though. The existence of my new sister in itself proves that we are all unreliable witnesses to our lives. I used that concept of ‘unreliable witness’ on one of my first blog posts about genealogy. We will never have all the facts of our lives coherently arranged. We can’t trust our memories, much less those around us, who actively conceal and camouflage their lives for one reason or another.
I lived most of my life suspecting that my new sister was out there in the world. She lived most of her life without the answers that could have given her the ability to understand herself better. It wasn’t her choice, but she paid the price and consequences of not knowing. I hate that for her.
I don’t know how life would have looked had Dad been honest with everyone about having another child. He died in 1993, another lifetime ago. My sister was around 21, and I was about 26. His shame or inability to acknowledge his indiscretion robbed other people of a fuller life. I can’t understand how a man who beat his wife and children, went to prison, and killed someone in a DWI accident would have difficulty saying he had another daughter. This is doubly true after his Mom died on May 21st, 1983. My sister turned eleven years old the next day.
I wish that people could be open to the complexity of their lives.
Were it my choice, all of y’all who know me well also know that I am no fan of concealment. We’ve done it, said it, and lived it, precisely in the same way that my Dad and others did before we came along. In the future, our descendants will whisper, pry, and discover. You may as well give the painful answers now if you find yourself in any way in the role of a secret keeper.
Somewhere, there is another me, looking for answers and wishing that my sister didn’t have to spend so many years without her truth being exposed.
I wish. For me, for you, for us all.
Let’s all shine the lights in whatever direction they are needed.
On Father’s Day 2019, I discovered that my ancestry and DNA quest had not been in vain: I found a sister (or we found each other), one whose existence defied any possible expectation. We didn’t meet initially – and then the pandemic struck. We both survived 2020. So, ironically, we met for the first time on New Year’s Day. While y’all were eating black-eyed peas, I was meeting a reflection of myself and wondering about the spectacle of life and how decisions made five decades ago continue to reach forward. Unlike other parts of my life, this has been a reward, one welcomed by both of us. How we got here was the result of other people’s decisions. We still have questions, though one of which is no longer what we might be like in person: Carolyn is as kind, witty, and outgoing as I could hope.
When Carolyn arrived, I discovered that I had met my match for the longest hug ever. I’m also not the baby of the family any longer. I kept telling her that I saw Aunt Barbara is so much of her mannerisms and look, which compliments everyone involved.
It’s incredible how good-looking we both are, isn’t it? 🙂 Due to Carolyn’s presence next to me in the pictures, I realize how much of my Dad’s devil-may-care attitude is reflected in me. I’m still wondering how it is possible that Carolyn is my sister.
I also met her youngest son, who tolerated our hours of catching up on 48 years of missed lifetime as we sat, talked, and pondered into the night.
When I was younger, I suspected that I might have family in the world. I’m still amazed that I kept the hope into my 50s – especially to find someone who seems to be a bit like me, even if she got there from an opposite path.
This strange, strange world holds a few surprises still.
Carolyn and I are the two truths; the lie is that love and truth can be concealed, even in a world convoluted by people’s inability to tell their stories due to fear, shame, or for some other human reason that eludes definition.
Though it isn’t a contest, I am convinced that I won the New Year’s Day contest for the most rewarding.
P.S. You might wait until we hear Carolyn’s opinion; you’d have to be crazy to accept mine without corroboration.
I am still surprised that most people’s minds aren’t cluttered with a million observations about the people and places in their days. There’s not enough time to consider them, repackage them, and appreciate them. Even with the virus, the one that supposedly slowed the world’s spin a bit, I find myself accelerating toward a crucible that I can’t quite define.
I don’t get writer’s block and I even find myself not understanding how a musician runs out of ideas, lyrics, and brilliance. While watching the new “Selena” series, I rolled my eyes at least 50 times as the musicians struggled to find ideas and inspiration. If we are blocked or stifled, all we have to do is open ourselves up to the great people we have around us. We all survive by collaboration; it’s worth your time to stop struggling and listen to people as they live their lives. There’s enough story here for a thousand books and a library of music.
There’s too much life out here with so many people inhabiting our world in a way that deserves recognition. Humor, love, tragedy, and even the moments when you find yourself organizing your kitchen cabinets on Saturday night all carry weight.
I wish y’all could get ICS too. We could flood the world with our stories. Love, X .
I’ve written about a range of topics on this blog. I started it to share my life and to give anyone interested a chance to see me. (I’ll skip over the revisionists for now.) I’m not a great writer, but I am a constant one.
Instead of jumping in with a post that follows the course of this post, I’ll start with this one as a ‘heads up’ for everyone.
We all have thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that might not withstand scrutiny. It’s a rarity to find someone who can dish it out without regard to where it lands. That’s in part because we find ourselves trapped by the lives we lead. Words we say can leave love and understanding. They can also leave confusion and hurt. The best writers with the best intentions often wound the people they love. Imagine being a hack like me and wanting to express what feels like eloquence only to discover that I’ve scattered sand into someone’s eyes or clouded their heart.
We all do this in the course of our day. Usually though, it’s spoken and fleeting. Writing this way solidifies the reality of whatever is being expressed.
I know I harm often already. I know I do. I apologize. It’s safer to say nothing, to leave no trail behind, and to play it safe. Much of our lives is predicated on doing this each day. It’s part of the social construct. It’s folly to argue otherwise. It is also why so much of our lives get lost; we’re afraid for people to know us intimately or beyond the limits we impose on ourselves. While many people might know slivers of us, there’s just no way we’re going to be enlightened enough to feel unburdened.
I am going to venture out onto a few limbs. A few of them are going to break. I don’t bend them with malice or arrows designed to hit targets. People are not targets. They have their complexity. I don’t try to wound those on my overlaps. It still remains that my story is mine to tell.
Before venturing further, remember that you’re reading voluntarily. Something I’ve written must interest you because you come back to read more as I share it. I value the idea of you, whoever you are, in my head by consuming these words. You’re likely going to get uncomfortable with some things I write – and maybe get an unfamiliar feeling associating the words I’ll write with who I am. I understand.
And so it begins.
In the future, you’ll read a wider breadth of things about me. I will provide adequate warning on each post so that you easily avoid being uncomfortable, if such things are uncomfortable.
I routinely go through my colossal draft lists and discard troves of ideas and actual stories. I’d discard the computer, but they get expensive. When I was writing several of my Elm Springs stories, I kept skipping over the “Man Parked In Pond” account due to the incongruous absurdity of the title.
What might amuse you more is that I’ve seen several cars in ponds in my lifetime. Both stupidity and drinking were involved in all cases. I think there’s a universal truth to that last sentence. I can proudly say that I was in the car on separate occasions while BOTH my Mom and Dad drove into ponds, ditches, or swamps. It’s one thing to go into a small pond, but if you’ve ever seen how deep and snake-filled some irrigation ditches and swamps can be, you’re not enthusiastic about getting into one. At night. Snakes do not like to cuddle.
I am not afraid of snakes until they get into my underwear. Call it a phobia if you have to.
When I first worked at a nursing home in Springdale after high school, I often ran home before I got my second car. My first car, a great one given to me by my brother Mike as he shockingly went into the Army, was stolen by my Dad and sold on my cousin’s car lot. The irony is that I worked on the side at my cousin’s garage to earn credit toward the next car.
It was only 7-8 miles home from work. Those runs were interesting as hell at times, just as they were when I started from home and ran elsewhere. It was different back in the day. People drove drunk a LOT. Country roads were littered with cars at night. Saturday morning and Sunday morning was a great time to see the places on the road where people were probably driving too fast. Or drunk. One of the neighbors near where I lived often stopped and “borrowed” things from the cars he found on the side of the road at night. Thinking back on it, it was impossible for him to get caught. This is in part due to the visibility of approaching lights and the failure of most drunks to inventory their possessions, much less know for certain that they are driving their own car home at night.
Note to civil engineers: if you want to reduce unsafe and drunk driving, put a buttload of stupidly sharp curves in the road. Or a five-mile stretch of road that is 100% roundabouts. The Arkansas educational system didn’t adequately prepare most people for sensible traffic devices.
If you’ve driven the side roads from Springdale to Elm Springs, you’re aware of the sharp turns everywhere. Many of those turns sit next to barbed wire fencing. Or worse, ponds. While I didn’t see the accident when it happened, I was running home when I heard brakes and skidding, followed by sounds that didn’t make sense to me. It was after midnight, so I couldn’t imagine who or what had crashed. As I ran along a sloping S-curve, I saw taillights. As I neared, I could see that the barbed wire fencing had been torn open. The truck that went through the fence went a few feet into the pond. While I was sure I was going to try to help, I didn’t know how exactly. I heard someone drunkenly mumbling. In today’s terms, it sounded a lot like Kenny Chesney singing any of his Top 40 hits.
I remember being glad it wasn’t my Dad. He’d traversed many a fenceline while driving drunk. More than once, with me in the vehicle. Good times! After one particularly bad accident through a cow field, he kept repeating the same joke: “I was looking for a good steak.” His sense of humor was legendary when he wasn’t trying to kill someone.
The man in the truck managed to get the door open. He was cursing in drunk language at that point. Though I couldn’t see much, I realized he was trying to get into the truck’s bed from the cab so he wouldn’t step into the shallow water. I waited. Sure enough, a huge splash followed as he fell off trying to get over the side of the truck. He set the world record for putting the lord’s name in vain for the next couple of minutes. He staggered out of the pond.
“Who the f### are you?” he asked me.
“The ghost of drunks future,” I quipped. I wasn’t scared at all to mock any drunk I didn’t know.
This tendency got me into some precarious predicaments through the years, including one incident when a drunk tried to throw a mostly-empty pitcher of beer on me, and I yelled, “Ball 4!.” My shout made him angry when it dawned on him that people in the bar laughed. I had reluctantly accompanied my roommate Ray to go shoot pool at a bar that now no longer exists in the Midway area. When the drunk acted as if he would chase me, I dashed to the back door, opened it, and then slammed it. I stepped out of sight into the filthy supply closet near the back door. The drunk ran outside, thinking I went out first. We laughed our asses off about that for a long time. The best part of this story is that he didn’t remember getting mad or running out the back to chase me upon his return.
We didn’t have cell phones back then. There was a payphone at a small store a couple of bends of the road away from the pond. But I wasn’t going to accompany a drunk for that kind of walk. “Go knock on that door,” I told him and pointed to a brown house a couple of hundred feet away. “They’ll help you.” I waited, and eventually, he stumbled his way in that direction. I left out here that the owners of the pond and the house were the same people. I ran the rest of the way home, amused at my cleverness. I found out that the owners made the driver completely fix their fence and make restitution. Had I not run by that night, I don’t think he would have. And I wouldn’t be able to brag I watched a grown man drunkenly try to climb over the edge of his truck and then fall into a pond.
And so, I leave you with “Man Parked In a Pond.” It’s not Faulkner or Conroy, but it amuses me.