Category Archives: Personal

Custom Diamond Painting

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I inadvertently ordered a custom diamond painting that is 40 X 60 cm, which is either about 16 X 20 inches or 0.0020202 X 0.00252525 furlongs, depending on how weirdly you enjoy your specifications. Dawn completed several ‘out-of-the-box’ ones, so I thought I’d surprise her with one I designed.

I should have used a cutout template, as the picture I submitted contained a mass of colors and details that I didn’t take into account. I’m sure Dawn passed out for a second when she first discovered the number of colors and noted the thousands of diamond squares required. I tried counting the squares but kept getting lost at 8,234.

Months later, she’s finished with the herculean artwork. She passed many hours at the kitchen table, hunched over with an applicator pen and a magnifying glass. If you’re searching for a hobby which will either delight or terrorize, this one is for you.

The picture is based on one I created. Dawn’s image was at an event in Fayetteville, while I am wearing one of the most handsome ensembles from the Handmaid’s Tale Collection. We already own a similar wood-panel version of the picture. It’s available for sale for $120,000 if there’s a potential lunatic buyer out there.

After Dawn finished the painting, we made our first attempt at sealing the canvas, using DecoArt triple-glaze to enclose it. Luckily, it worked fantastically, even with me doing the application. Note to those who once enjoyed eating Elmer’s glue: this stuff does not have any appetizing elements in it.

I bought a great frame from Hobby Lobotomy and placed it on the wall of honor near our bar and fairy door. (We rarely see our pixie/fairy named Crowder anymore.)

One picture is of the finished painting on the kitchen table. The other is of it hanging on the living room wall. You’ll note that I overcame my otherwise professional perfectionism and used a picture that reflects the picture window at the front of the house. At my age, it’s risky wasting precious time getting the camera just right.

 

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Note: there is a huge difference in comfort between diamond paintings using square vs. round tiles.

My wife prefers round, for a variety of reasons.

DecoArt TG01-36 Triple Thick Gloss Glaze, 8-ounce Triple Thick Gloss Glaze is what we used to seal the canvas. 8 ounces is more than enough to do a 16 X 20″ painting. You can use it on other things, too, if you’re interested.

I personally think it’s acceptable to leave many of the colors unfilled. I’m hoping my wife will do a diamond painting with the main parts finished and allow me to hand paint the gaps with either white or corresponding colors. I can imagine several creative alternatives to an intentionally finished diamond painting.

 

It Was Everything

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He sat there in the warm embrace of the relentless sun. The breeze brought a touch of cool relief but also wafted across us laden with the scent of the fast food of the golden arches. The blue sky above might as well have been a lifeless ceiling.

He wasn’t asking for anything, much less my attention. His clothes were dirty, and his posture was one of a young man who’d already done more than his share. It was palpable.

Our mornings were orphans now; his due to monotonous work and mine from the disconnect of knowing he was probably dreading a repetition of the same tomorrow.

Ignoring my fear of injury to his pride, I approached and asked if he was okay.

“Waiting to go do some more work,” he said. “My buddies went for lunch and I haven’t earned enough to eat.”

I solved his lunch problem. And probably his supper problem too, the one waiting for a solution after he’d finish working much later.

“Thanks. I never ask for anything.” He looked me in the eye, and I knew he was telling the proud truth.

I nodded, in fear I might I burst into inexplicable tears. I walked back to my car.

He went inside the store next to his perch. Moments later, he exited, tearing the package of his lunch with his teeth and inhaling half of whatever sandwich hid within. In his other hand, he had a large bottle of water. He gulped half of it as he stood there, looking up at the overcast blue sky as if it had just appeared above him.

A couple of minutes later, a beat-up small pickup truck pulled up and the young man jumped into the bed. I could see lawn equipment protruding above the edge of the bed. They drove off without exchanging a word.

I can’t help the sinister cloud enveloping my brother’s sanity. I can’t erase the past or retrieve angry words exchanged in the course of my steps.

I solved the stranger’s problem, though, even if it was not mine to approach.

It’s a nice day, I agree, even as we individually navigate the inevitable perils waiting to befall us.

The Poppaty Prerogative

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Pictures of people, please and thank you.

“We are who, remembering when.”

Another person recently discovered the agony of finding out that the opportunity to take pictures with their departed friend has expired forever. He has only a few photos of his times with his friend. Because he’s not proud of his appearance, his ability to drop his guard and allow spontaneous capture of his image dwindled to insignificance. Even on the last trip they shared, no pictures document their overlapping joy. His memory still thrives, to be sure, but just as the recollection of a song cannot accurately measure the depth of beauty of hearing the melody, a memory pales alongside the vivid undeniability of a picture to amplify it. It explains why we can so spontaneously burst into tears or feel the literal swell of our heart when we see the presence of people who have mattered to us.

In the specific and linear moments of our lives, we easily overlook the magic and sublime nature of being alive. As time propels us, we look back and can’t help but to focus our eyes on the apparent wonder of what we didn’t appreciate when it was another backdrop in our present moment. It’s our curse. We find it impossible to perceive the zen essence of an otherwise dull moment.

As Andy from “The Office” said, “…I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days’ before you’ve actually left them. Someone should write a song about that…”

The moments which tend to echo and call our name tend to be ordinary while we’re living them.

As people begin the ritual of finding new places to experience their lives, so many choose to photograph the static locales and places in their paths. In our data-filled lives, we have so many sources to find beautiful pictures of every single place on the globe. We can virtually drive down the streets of our favorite places without leaving the computer. We can take in the detail of any painting as it hangs on the gallery wall, no matter where that wall might be. There is both truth and beauty in such pictures. To those who say, “Aha! But those aren’t real,” I would point out that memories are only real to those who lived them. Pictures remain a testament for everyone.

We are, however, a world of people. We’ll remember places more for the moods they evoke. People grant us our identity, while places serve as our stage.

We are who, remembering when, imperfectly.

Cat Concussion

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I prepared a light meal for my wife Dawn so that she could multi-task. (Multi-tasking is a word used to conceal the fact that you’re doing many things at once – and none of them very well.)

While I was assembling the various items for eating, I gave my cat Güino the proper portion on a separate plate in the kitchen. He devoured my offering and then sat in the middle of the kitchen, licking his chops with great satisfaction, perhaps hoping gravity would prevail and drop him further morsels for satisfied consumption. We often comment that he eats more treats than cat food. It’s hard to fault him given my predilection to do the same. If the pantry were equipped with a McDonald’s french fry dispenser, I’d be in mortal peril.

I went to the office and presented the plate of food to my wife.

Under the slight chance that we wouldn’t compare notes, the cat sneaked in the office and casually made his approach, both closer and higher to Dawn’s plate. He sometimes believes himself to be invisible – or believes that we are stupidly inattentive. Dawn and I began the ritual of shooing him away like a bothersome housefly. Like a hungry hyena, he would then start a new approach, hoping we’d forgotten that he had been shooed away in the last thirty seconds.

After the third failed attempt, he turned around immediately at the door and began another stealthy saunter toward my wife’s desk. Without looking his direction, I kicked my left foot out with high velocity. There was no chance I was going to kick the cat. His reflexes, however, triggered and he turned violently to the right. I heard a loud ‘clunk’ as the cat’s head hit the door jamb and wall. Güino seemed stunned for a moment and then shakily ran out of the room and away from the hallway.

I laughed. Ever since Dawn ‘bopped’ him on the head with a spoon and made him go cross-eyed for a bit, we’ve awaited his next concussion.

As I entered the living room, I watched as Güino stepped sideways and plopped into a heap between the television monitor and the coffee table.

I jokingly started a countdown, as if a boxing match TKO was ongoing in the confines of the living room.

This round goes to the humans. He’ll get his revenge when I least expect it.

X’s Humor Relativity Perspective

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This post is going to hit you over the head. It’s personal and genuine. Weirdly enough, it’s about humor. If you read it to the end, the turn it takes will probably bother you, much like a Twilight Zone episode using electric shocks as language.

More than ever, I find myself in awe with people who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for humor and appropriateness. Personally, I can’t get my foot out of my mouth long enough to start gatekeeping other people’s humor.

Eventually, everyone’s sense of humor will land them in hot water with friends, in-laws, pastors, politicians, the Girl Scouts, and strangers. You can’t control another person’s reaction. My sense of humor is darker than average. It’s a claim I make from truth rather than an idle part of my story. If someone is not addressing me or a person specifically, I interpret it differently than I do other humor.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a new rule named “Hanlon’s Disposable Razor.” It preaches that we all stop assuming we know the intent of humor, especially if from someone who generally isn’t guilty of malicious behavior – and no actual harm results from it. The term ‘actual harm’ is subject to context, as is every single human experience, so don’t start quibbling over semantics or issues unaddressed by this post.

Since then, my social media filled with examples of people failing to realize that they can’t read the minds or hearts of others. “Well, that’s not funny!” seems to be taken as a blanket justification for anger in response to something that someone finds a bit uncomfortable. Adam Sandler’s last ten movies weren’t funny, either, but plenty of people disagree. “You can’t joke about some things,” is another typical gatekeeping statement. It’s rare that the person making such a statement has a smile on his or her face when they say it. Or matching socks, now that I think about it.

I’m not advocating that we run willy-nilly over people’s feelings under the guise of humor. Quite the opposite. Likewise, 7-8 billion people surround you, all with differing takes on life. It’s impossible to avoid all possible topics of contention. Elevating all humor to the level of spiteful is a fool’s errand. As you know, nincompoops are always employed.

Mother’s Day, April Fools’ Day pranks, Avengers spoilers (as if the movie wasn’t terrible enough), euthanasia, illness, falling and breaking one’s arm: all of these can be funny in the right context. They are not amusing to the people currently embroiled in any pain associated with the topics, however. Humor is universally told from the point of view of an imaginary third person. We don’t laugh or joke with the intent of hurting anyone. Not if we’re reasonable, I mean. If we accidentally say or do something without realizing that it’s causing specific pain, it’s not a reason to lash out in righteous anger. Mistakes are going to happen. Compounding the innocent error with anger serves no one.

On two occasions since I posted my new rule, people attacked me for not showing the required gravitas to an issue or for the sin of laughing at a horrible post even as I cringed that someone had posted it. I did what any reasonable person would do: I printed a picture of that person’s face, laminated it, and taped it to a urinal at the bus station. (That last comment was humorous. FYI.)

Now, I’m going to get personal and provide an example that will erase any doubt that all of us sometimes pull back from humor that we find to be misplaced. The difference is that I avoid objections to ‘third person’ humor, generalized humor, or humor that references shared experiences. I have to be personal because it’s not only the only way I know how to write but because it strikes directly to the point I’m making.

The humor we allow ourselves and in others is a direct measure of our depth and appreciation for our error-prone lives.

It is not the content per se that brings problems; instead, it is the motivation of the person creating the humor. Most people don’t require much study. We’re stupid more than we are malignant.

There’s a popular meme of a white cat near a woman lying dead on the floor. It’s comprised of three panels, each with the cat approaching the deceased woman, meowing for attention at her side, and finally, sitting on her hip. “Your cat’s reaction to finding you dead on the floor,” or something similar usually serves as title or footnote to the pictures.

There’s a problem with the meme if you look at it from the vantage point of unintended humor. What many people don’t know is that cats tend to stay near the body of their deceased owner, exactly as pictured in the meme. Many people have their own stories relating to this tendency.

As thick-skinned as I am, if you don’t know this about me, I was in the exact situation pictured. My wife died late one Sunday night, the night before Labor Day, years ago. She lay in another room for hours before I woke up for work. Our white cat, Quito, stayed with her for most of the night. I found him with her the next morning when I went into the kitchen.

Now, imagine the pain that came from that situation.

It’s such a specific scenario that it seems unlikely that it would ever be the subject of one particular meme.

However, it is.

It’s not a general observation or bit of humor: it describes precisely one of the most significant traumas I’ve experienced in my entire life.

The meme or ones similar to it come up on my social media and the internet with a higher frequency than you’d imagine. It’s not ever going to be likely that anyone posts such content with the intent of trying to barb me.

I could, of course, lash out at people, as if they are responsible for my biography. I could casually mention my past, which would needlessly traumatize the person sharing the meme as a joke.

Alternatively, I could get a sharp jab and then move along.

In general, take the short jab and then move along. Not always, of course, because sometimes people do misbehave and troll their fellow human beings with ill intent.

But not most of the time. Move along.

If I can overlook a cat meme accidentally mocking this substantial trauma in my life, you can overlook jokes about pregnancy on April Fools’ Day, funny anecdotes about cancer, or insensitive humor scattered throughout your social media.

It is not an invalidation of your perspective or feelings for others to joke at the heart or fringes of subjects which overlap with your life’s discomforts, losses, or challenges unless it’s done with malice aforethought or callousness. I hope you don’t have many people in your life that would subject you to such behavior.

I’d rather live in a world in which I sometimes cringe at humor than to reside in one devoid of the richness of human creativity and whimsy.

I ask that you strive to assume that my humor isn’t personalized or weaponized to offend, which is a favor I’ll reciprocate. If there’s doubt, we owe it to one another to further give the benefit of goodwill unless the preponderance of evidence tells us that someone is speaking or acting out of spite.

When someone lashes out at me for a badly-timed or placed joke, I’ll repay their impatience and impoliteness with a reminder that I probably have the upper hand in this argument.

Do unto others – and I certainly do. I welcome all humor, from tripping down the stairs to jokes that would cause many to burst out in tears.

P.S. If you heard 1/50th the nonsense that goes through my head or that I say in private, your head would explode indignantly. The truth is, though, that we both know that you undoubtedly have at least a portion of my dark bent in your own head. That overlap is what gives us hope.

Also, I’m in the picture on this post three different times.

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A Conversation With Crazy

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I recently became acquainted with a gentleman who is one of those unexpected hybrids of pleasant, upbeat, and batshot crazy. He’s older and has wide exposure to the world. Superficially, he’s likable. You’d never know that his cheese slid off his cracker.

There’s one problem: he is certain that all forms of cancer are nothing more than a state of mind. “If you think it, you’ll be it.” I waited until he had uttered a version of the sentiment twice before directly inquiring. I know a couple of anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, and chiropractic enthusiasts, so I’m used to weirdos.

I asked him, of course, if anyone very close to him had died of cancer – or if he had been to a hospice care facility. “No,” was the obvious answer. Since we get along well, I also told him that a great swath of humanity would think he’s crazy and that many would accuse him of being heartless. He’s otherwise very smart and I find myself aligning with his general outlook, at least the one that’s perceptible through regular conversation.

I’d go so far to say that regardless of one’s pleasantness when talking to him about these things, he takes logical insistence as proof that the person contradicting him is a negative person. He’ll even double-down on his thesis and claim that almost all disease is subject to the same self-causation.

Initially, I had great hopes I’d become better-acquainted with him.

As a bona fide nutjob myself, I can tolerate a huge quantity of asininity. I’m an expert at fool impersonation. It’s a herculean task to overcome the idea that someone harbors beliefs that can’t be approached with logic, conversation, or science.

Or, more importantly, the knowledge that it’s sometimes wise to keep one’s foolish ideas to oneself. Yes, I realize that I’m a hypocrite like everyone else.

“The moon is made of cheese.” Why not?

My fundamental problem is that there is a chasm of difference between walking around with a chicken wrapped around one’s neck and denying basic science.

My new acquaintance is the Michael G. Scott of my life: entertaining but absent most self-awareness.

He reminds me of a co-worker from back at my days at a meat processor; that man was convinced that eating one’s own nasal nuggets and taking a sip of your own urine was great for you. We called him the English equivalent of “Snot-eater.” (Thankfully, we didn’t do potluck dinners back then.) I thought he was fairly nuts until I discovered an entire trove of people who believed that the Sun orbits the Earth. People think the Flat-Earthers are dumb; I wish they could have entertained themselves with the lunacy of those who angrily contradicted sense and science so violently.

My new acquaintance is good training for me.

I know that people believe a lot of nonsense.

I guess I forgot.

This will help prepare me for the next election.

The Clarion Misconception

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For anyone who never had the pleasure of the holiday buffets at the now-defunct Clarion Inn in Fayetteville, you’ll have to pick another such activity or place to visualize. It’s possible I’m too nostalgic. Something about the holiday buffets evoked a feeling of kinship and holiday in me that few things ever did. I was always surprised by the mix of people who would show up and join in.

The buffet was fabulous, whether you were a light eater, a healthy eater, or someone who could best be described as a “human disposal.”

I didn’t get to return “one last time,” mostly because of factors out of my control.

Over time, I wrote a few rules to keep in mind as I hear/see people forego simple things in life, as if they themselves will not be scattered dust on a day much sooner than most of us expect.

The Clarion Misconception
The error of foregoing even mundane pleasures due to the illogical
presumption that said pleasures will always be at your disposal.

The Clarion Misconception Addendum:
Giving primary consideration to other’s preferences due to perceived proximity to death or variable out of your control.

The Clarion Certainty: Future moments are all promissory notes without guarantee.

The Clarion Kinship Observation: Familial or societal expectations should be evaluated against all variables, with your own voice given equal vote.

The Clarion Selfishness Observation: Compromise in all things will get you far; giving yourself permission to not do so will sometimes make your life happier.

History Seldom Stays Silent

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This post is personal. Read at your own discretion.
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I’m not quite sure what precipitated some of my revelations this week. Gears clicked and connections snapped together in so many different places. I felt like Rainman as a few things which had previously been a block for me fell away. Not only was I able to help several other people, but I also used my luck to take another stab at some of my own history.
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I found a few things which I’ll process and write about later. Some of them are dark and some are simply crazy. A few of my ancestry leads broke open, too. A couple of people are going to have to rethink who they think they are who they think they come from. I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone that while we are not our DNA, it is the tenuous and undeniable connection that belies our ancestry and heritage. I’ve made some discoveries which I’ve never shared with anyone; once told they are no longer ideas to be held, but burdens which cannot be forgotten. All of us have our internal history, the one which we know to be true – but often isn’t.
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Regarding one of my most personal finds this week, I only found them because I had helped someone find a bit of information. I wrote, “Start your inquiry in the simplest way possible.” Easy words to write but hard to live by. Starting simple is exactly like attempting to tell a story without drawing an entirely new and complex roadmap in the middle of the story as we tell it. We are so impatient for the people in our lives to get to the point and yet some of us are enraptured by the presence of a story well-told, filled with wrinkles, and the destination unclear.
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And so, in a matter of minutes, I found news articles in Indiana regarding some of my dad’s run-ins with the law. There was more than one, I discovered. I’ve been told that my dad left Arkansas because he had family in Indiana, which is true. The myth is that he had exhausted the good-ole-boy network in Monroe County, Arkansas and needed a clean break. Like in most rural Southern places, it was possible to run amok without real consequence in Monroe County, all the way to mayhem and sometimes murder. I do know that my Grandmother Terry exerted a great deal of pull in a continual attempt to keep my dad from being held accountable for the hell-raising that he always found himself in. My dad’s father James died in early 1964, and shortly before my oldest sibling was born.
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The story of all this is a massive tapestry shared by countless people. Some know more of it than others, especially the older generation, the one succumbing to death with greater urgency. Others, the younger generation, are unaware of much of the tapestry, as ideas like family honor, secrecy and shame shielded them from being aware in the first place. I’ve unevenly kept my post through the last few years, honing in on some truths. Some I’ve cemented rightfully into the record because I was able to find sources other than those affected by dubious family loyalty.
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That same misplaced loyalty to protect my dad served as an umbrella for him through much of his life. It enveloped him and encouraged many of my paternal relatives to shamefully look away as he engaged in a long series of brutally violent and alcohol-fueled crimes against his wife and children. (And society.)
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Alcoholism is one of the few diseases that infects others with an inability to see and hear clearly. Alcohol coupled with anger or violence demands a collective and permanent bout of amnesia. Once initiated, this voluntary amnesia makes everyone an accomplice.
I’m relieved that I’ve learned to place this idea in a tidy descriptive box like that because it makes it more palatable and relatable. People get really angry when they are reminded that they allowed children to be abused.
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My dad’s family silently stood by, almost always pretending to not see it, nor the symptoms of pathology that it engendered in myself, my brother and my sister. It is a miracle that we survived. It’s a greater miracle that I did not see fit to murder him while I had the chance, or that another family member didn’t light his bed on fire in the dark of night. Throughout my early life, I constantly heard, “We don’t talk about that.” Or, “Shame on you! He’s your dad.” The latter would be hurled at me through tightly-bound lips, spitting the obvious anger all over me, even as the person saying the words could see the dark purple and yellow bruises from my ankles to my neck. I can’t fathom how many children went to church with the hard wooden pews pressing against the trail of agony on their legs and back, wondering when the mercy would flow toward them.
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“Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot,” is an old saying to remind us that situations are complicated and look different from the outside. It’s easy for normal people to jump to their dad’s defense, (or mine) on the pretense of biology. It’s easy for some to expect me not only to forgive, which I have done – yet for some, they also insanely demand that I not use my voice to share my experiences. It is possible to share simply because the story of our lives is interesting to us. As we tell it, we learn things anew.
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“Bobby Dean was a good man,” some would say. No, he was not.
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By any objective measure and any accounting, he was not good. In his defense, he had his shining moments, as everyone does – and I remember those with fondness. To any family member asking me to focus only on those shining moments, I remind them that not all monsters have fangs. Some of them are in the PTA and engage in all manner of horrors.
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Years ago, Dad helped organize a fish fry to help someone with medical bills. It was truly a good effort with real consequence. A family member used it angrily against me as an example to support their ignorant thesis that my dad was a good man beneath it all. I acknowledged that it was indeed a good act, but that terrible people live lives of mostly normal constancy. I then shocked and angered the family member by saying, “Is that man good if he broke a rake across my back so violently that I peed blood for a week, or beat my mom so hard with a pistol that he broke her nose? Killed someone? Went to prison for multiple crimes?” As I talked, the man’s face became crimson. “And anyone who let him do it is as guilty as he is.” He stomped away.
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As my ability to comb the past has grown, I’ve assembled a larger picture of my dad. The more I learn about his life, the more sympathy I see for his trajectory. His arc was cruelly bent at an early age and he chose not to deviate from its perpetual fall. The responsibility is his and his alone, though, just as my impatience in my own personal life has led me to some dark moments. I, however, didn’t have children; my ownership of the defective biology that flowed through my dad now dies with me. I’m being literal. Whatever dad had lurked in his DNA.
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As I do with everyone, I say that almost everything we do when young can be forgiven. Most of us are simply stupid when younger. After a certain point, it becomes an issue of either willfulness or pathology. Beating your wife and kids to the point of risking murder is a great example of this, if using half your income to buy alcohol and cigarettes isn’t. Everything must be weighed against youthful ignorance and the long totality of a person’s life. Accumulated choices and consequences allow us to characterize someone in a way that singular mistakes cannot.
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I’d also been reluctantly told that my dad was only guilty of being in the getaway car at a truck stop robbery on Highway 20 in Indiana. Based on the evidence I’ve been able to uncover, he wasn’t just “there.” What I wasn’t told, however, was that he had also committed other crimes, including burglary, while he was in Indiana. He was younger than I had been told, which had hampered my ability to accurately research. I had to indirectly ask questions, usually when people had been drinking. My head was filled with a million untruths, half-truths, misdirection.
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My dad was sentenced to prison in Indiana the month before I was born. I was the last child, the baby, and the second-born son, and through a series of accidents and misunderstandings, was branded with his name upon my birth in Brinkley, Arkansas. Some of my dad’s misfortune benefitted me, as during one long portion, I lived with my Grandma and Grandpa Cook. I’ve long suspected that Dad’s incarceration in another state might have saved my life, and most probably the life of my mother.
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As you all know, I later rejected my birth name entirely and yet credit my grandparents with the part of me that I find myself prideful of. Names don’t contain the essence of a person. My Grandpa would have never wrapped his head around my choice of name in “X,” but he would have leaned in and hugged me with his arm around me on the porch swing and laughed at my foolishness. He would have known why without being told. His eyes had seen a lot of human misery and recognized the stale indifference that often overpowered my dad. When I was young, Grandpa often said, “Don’t be afraid of things on four legs. It’s the ones on two that will get you.” In the rural area we lived, critters and creatures constantly came to visit, often stealthily and seen through the darkened screen of an open window on a blistering night. Years later, I felt as if Grandpa were talking about my dad. He rarely had words with my mom and dad, but several of the instances were warnings to stop mistreating their kids, and me in particular.
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So it came to pass that this week, on a whim,  I found the first article from Indiana in less than 2 minutes, after years of haphazard and dedicated digging. Dad started small and then went big with his nascent crime career in Indiana. I indexed the articles so that future interested parties might find the articles more easily.
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It’s worth noting that regardless of my dad’s official criminal record, he killed a cousin of mine while drinking and driving, (Which I recently found a mention of in a newspaper. Another tidbit that I literally just discovered is that my dead cousin’s father was related to the county sheriff.)
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My dad was quite the adept arsonist and managed to be involved in almost all the petty and felonious no-nos on the books, whether it involved guns, marijuana, VIN displacement, DWI, domestic violence, or assault. When the Springdale City Attorney went to prison for DWI-fixing, you can be sure that my parent’s names figured prominently in that accounting.
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Because the truth reaches places I hadn’t expected, I now know that a few other rumors I had heard in screaming and bloody episodes in the deep of night as bones gave way to furniture are probably true. Words I didn’t have context for now have meaning and their incoherence has slithered away, leaving behind a freshly-washed sidewalk for me to examine.
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I say none of this with shame; his life was his own.
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I have more than paid the price for his presence in my life. For anyone who has read my mind by reading my words over the years, you know that I’ve worked hard to extract the useful parts of my dad’s life, too. I’ve not turned my back on the whole person. A story I wrote earlier this year was read by thousands of people. It was a story of my dad as a whole, imperfect person, written through his eyes. I understand much of dad’s pathology now. I owed him a demonstration that I could see him as a human being.
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I’m not bitter, but I will confess that the sharpest lemonade is akin to water to my taste in part due to my dad.
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There have been times in which people have incredulously asked me about some of my stories. “That can’t be true!” someone will say.
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It’s true I sometimes get the details wrong, but I assure you that I try to get it right. I’m the only one out here on the limb of my family tree doing the time and attempting to share my part of the story. Not all stories are of youthful summer mornings on the porch with my Grandpa Willie.
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Where I err in detail, I strike a chord in truth.
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All these decades later, I’m amused that I get the final say. I read, I ponder, and I consider. The scarring I have is my friend, one which whispers in my ear as I put words on paper.
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Recently, I’ve been able to talk openly with someone who is familiar with the tornado of my youth. He’s shared some stories, many of them I couldn’t remember. In the past, he might have been the one to silence my family’s critics, as his family loyalty was ingrained into him in a way that it never was with me. His advancing age and experiences in the world finally gave him permission to detach and tell the overlapping stories of our youth. I thought that it would have been my cousin Jimmy, but cancer silenced him a few years ago. During a conversation last week, I could only imagine the storytelling if Jimmy were alive to join in. Here we are though, with our myths, certainties and acquired perspective, wondering how many unpleasant ripples our own choices might have made in life.
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Before parting, I’d like to mention that there’s another sinister chapter in my dad’s life, one which I don’t feel is my story to tell. It is a mirrored hall of horrors. I’ve circled its fringes with curiosity for a time; I doubt that I’ll ever claim ownership to the story. That I believe the chapter of his life is true reflects on the chasm that my dad punched and beat into me. I sometimes creep up to the bloody edge of it and recoil. It is the darkest of possible secrets. I guard it closely, knowing that those who would disagree with the assessment of dad would cringe and run if I were to shout it to them in reply their foundationless defense of a man long dead. I know that others walking in this world have their stories. Their silence is astounding to me. It is theirs to guard, though.
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Summer’s Bedrail

 

jimmy terry and x teri

 

In the summer of 1978, my family was living in City View trailer park, a place of infamy I’ve previously written about. Many residents were notorious about not maintaining their lawns. I’d go so far as to say that the word ‘lawn’ would almost be the last word a rational person would use to describe the lots assigned to each tenant. Some, however, took pride in their lots, which confused me when I was younger. In a bizarre twist, my dad usually made my brother and I trim the grass around the bottom of the metal skirt under our trailer with a butcher knife. I know – what could go wrong?

Residents would pile an amazing array of objects next to, under, and at each end of their trailers, often partially hiding the end with the heavy metal hitch on it. This tendency caused at least ten million banged shins and legs, especially playing tag, catch, or football in the yards. During the time we lived at the trailer park, I found a loaded pistol, pornographic magazines, whiskey, potato chips, and other things under the skirting of trailers.

Many of the kids living in the trailer park spent their entire day roaming the park without shoes. I was one of those barefoot savages. My feet were as hard as tire tread.

One of the endless days at the beginning of summer, I jumped down from the back door of my trailer, as steps were an invitation for someone to try to get inside. Even the front steps of most trailers were cheaply made using narrow wood planks and thin metal supports. Most trailers had terrible front steps and none at all in the back, often with both comical and horrendous consequences due to the number of people who attempt a hasty exit or entrance while under the influence of one substance or another. A smart kid knew exactly how to jump from the back door and simultaneously fling it closed again as he or she leaped out. Note: not while a parent was inside. As we all learned, slamming a door was treated by parents as seriously as murdering someone in broad daylight.

My friend Troy had told me to come over and find him. I hit the ground running and by the time I made it to the spot a few trailers away, Troy and the other miscreants took off running from me. I darted around the end of one of the trailers. The grass was at least waist high against the trailer. Because I was attempting to set a land-speed record and catch up, I ignored the danger of the grass. I jumped in the grass as I ran. My right foot landed on something hard and I felt the immediate agony of something cutting into my foot. In my childhood, I stepped on a few dozen nails, broken bottles, as well as an assortment of other things. It went in deeply. Despite my speed, I fell into the grass. I had landed on a long, old-style rusty bed rail. The upturned corner had pierced all the way into the arch of my right foot. I was surprised that it had not passed all the way through my foot and out the top.

I could barely see my foot, so I crawled out of the grass and sat on the ground, looking at the expansive and deep cut in my foot. For a few moments, it didn’t bleed. As I released my foot, the blood spurts and an intense cramp started. I survived my second head trauma a few years before, one which resulted in massive blood loss and almost 200 stitches. This didn’t seem as bad until the cramps started. As the blood pulsed out of my foot, I realized I had to get back to the trailer, so I crawled as fast as I could despite the cramps in my foot.

There is a lot I don’t remember about that day. Someone called my dad at work. Normally, this would signal the end of my life. No one called my dad, not ever, even after a decapitation. It was probably my sister who called. I don’t remember. My dad did not want to come home, even after someone exaggerated the severity of the cut by saying they thought I was dying. It didn’t sway him, however, as his parenting style could best be described as “If he dies, I had too many kids to begin with.”

I do remember that by the time I got out of the trailer, the cheap linoleum looked like a crime scene photo and the rags I had used to try to stop the bleeding were drenched.

Dad came home over an hour later, angry and blustering. He screamed at me to get in the bed of the pickup truck as he got behind the wheel. I managed to climb up, then over the tailgate. My foot registered every bump and pothole in the road between our trailer and the medical clinic over on Quandt Avenue and Young Street. Dad’s dog Duke kept me company during the trip.

I don’t remember who the doctor was who helped me but he was a rapid-fire, no-nonsense doctor. He used a large bottle with a nozzle on it to spray inside the deep cut even as a nurse used her gloved fingers to hold the wound open as far as she could. For good measure, he doused it with a huge quantity of some type of disinfectant, which set off another round of foot cramps. Dad was not in the room with me, which was a huge relief to me. He’s the type who would probably slap a surgical patient for sleeping during the procedure.

The nurse went out to find him and dad returned and stood in the doorway. I’m paraphrasing, but the doctor asked him if he wanted some other kind of treatment. Dad told him no and that the doctor should do whatever took the least amount of time. I’m certain that they were discussing cutting my foot off, given my dad’s mean streak. I figured out later that stitching it quickly might cause some long-term cramping or other risks. Dad went back out to smoke.

The doctor seemed to put an inordinate number of stitches in my foot. Despite the shots to numb my foot, I could feel most of them. He did tell me that the bed rail had almost pierced all the way through my foot. He dressed it and listed off a list of important notes that I couldn’t possibly remember. I didn’t have anything to cover my foot, so the doctor put a plastic bag over it and told me to stay off it for a couple of days and to avoid getting it dirty.

Because dad wouldn’t come back in the room, I didn’t get crutches. Fair or not, a doctor in Springdale at that time wouldn’t have been surprised by a callous father. I think it was almost normal for medical staff to witness parents treat their children like cattle.

My Dad also, of course, didn’t offer to help me as I tried to hobble out to the truck and once again climb in the back of the truck.

When we got to the trailer, dad didn’t get out. I climbed over and managed to get out without screaming. I knew a beating was coming and simply didn’t want it to happen right then. We got the blood cleaned off the trailer floor, not that it mattered. Mom and dad routinely added one another’s blood to the floor at regular intervals.

To add insult to injury, I got a celebratory beating from both my mom and dad later that day, for a confusing mixture of carelessness and the sheer inconvenience of being bothersome. They both waited until they had consumed enough liquid courage to justify a beating. It’s some consolation that their anger toward me for getting injured at least stopped them from beating each other, at least on that night.

My foot secreted a constant ooze of clear fluid tinged with blood, especially after I walked on it. Mom, with her degree in folk medicine, ignored what I told her the doctor said and forced me to sit in a scalding bathtub of baking soda with my foot submerged in the liquid. She then poured undiluted alcohol on my wound until I almost passed out. She also insisted that I not cover the wound, so that it could breathe. Given that she made me literally eat Vick’s vapor rub, I didn’t have much faith in her medical advice. I also couldn’t figure out her idea that a beating might be medically advantageous for me, either.

A couple of days later, my Aunt Ardith convinced my mom to go to the clinic and to find out what was supposed to be done. Mom only went to the clinic to ask out of fear Aunt Ardith could say “I told you so” after they amputated my leg for gangrene. Mom came back with bandages, gauze, and some ointment. Aunt Ardith asked her about the crutches after reading a few of the notes the nurse gave my mom. “He ain’t got no G-D broken leg!” she shouted. Aunt Ardith rolled her eyes. By then, I was walking around without anything covering my foot. I had popped two of the outer stitches after a cramp hit me and I tried to stand up. I think my foot was a little infected by then. Aunt Ardith prepared a foot bath for me as Mom sat and drank a beer. My aunt showed me how to prepare the foot bath and told me to keep the bandage on it and to avoid putting pressure on my foot. No more mention was made of the crutches. I am certain that Aunt Ardith is the only reason I didn’t get a massive infection in my foot.

The next weekend, my cousin Jimmy wanted desperately to go see the movie “Thank God It’s Friday,” a 70s disco comedy, if such a thing is possible. It was showing at the Springdale Malco Twin theatre, on Highway 68 near Harps grocery. As I’ve written before, Jimmy almost always got his way, which worked out in my favor. All of the movies I got to see as a kid were the result of Jimmy, Mike Hignite, or another cousin. Literally, all of them. Aunt Ardith drove us to the theater while Mom sat in the passenger seat drinking her salted beer and smoking. They dropped us off and drove away. At the window, Jimmy got a laugh out of a woman who refused to say “God” in the title of the movie. “I need four tickets to ‘Thank Goodness It’s Friday'” she said several times. Jimmy was tickled that she couldn’t say “God,” but somehow thought that the movie would be appropriate to watch instead. Like many of our memories, I have no reason that adequately explains why I can remember that tidbit, but not other more important details in my life.

We bought two tickets and as I turned to go inside, one of the very young workers at the theater told me I had to put shoes on both feet to see the movie. I couldn’t have put on a shoe if I tried, especially with the thick gauze Aunt Ardith had put on my foot before leaving the house. I wasn’t wearing a sock and we’d never imagine such a thing as a medical boot or shoe. The manager came over, looked at my foot and said, “Get out,” as if I had planned to run inside the auditorium like an angry linebacker. We also didn’t get a refund.

My cousin Jimmy was furious. We went back outside and sat on the curb outside the theater. A few minutes later, someone came from inside the theater and told us we couldn’t sit outside and had to leave. I hobbled with Jimmy down to a payphone. No one answered at his house. As is the case with most of us and the phone numbers of our youth, I’ll never forget their phone number: 751-1551. Unlike my mom and dad, my aunt and uncle lived in the same house for almost their entire adult life, with the same phone number.

We wisely decided that our moms went to the liquor store for replenishments. So, we waited. After an hour, they drove up next to the building and we got in. Aunt Ardith parked the car haphazardly behind some of the other cars and walked up to the ticket window, her Tareyton cigarette still in her hand. I’m not sure what she said, but the manager came back over and immediately regretted it. Mom sat in the passenger seat, shouting obscene and encouraging words of agreement toward Aunt Ardith. The ticket clerk handed Aunt Ardith the money Jimmy paid for the tickets. She was cussing when she got back to the car. Mom threw her Budweiser can into the parking lot and opened another from a paper bag at her feet. She had probably become concerned that she might run out of beer during the very short drive from my cousin Jimmy’s house.

Evidently, my aunt had also demanded an apology from them for forcing us to get up and leave the relative safety of the front of the theater after being turned away for not wearing two shoes. I wondered what the manager would think if he knew that both Aunt Ardith and my mom were drunk. I think the shadowy canopy near the payphone to which we had been banished was far safer than the interior of the car being controlled by two drunk women. This sort of observation would have led to a beating for me. It didn’t occur to me until much later that normal parents would have known not to send a child to the theater without shoes, even if they had a medical reason.

I didn’t see the movie “Thank God It’s Friday” for another 25 years. Compared to a massive cut in the foot, it’s not so bad.

I ended up taking out my own stitches, in the stupid hope of avoiding another beating for the necessary return trip to the doctor.

In the years afterward, I would sometimes have the strangest phantom cramps in my foot where the scar is. The scar diminished in size but would occasionally flare up when I least expected it. Once, I was foolishly ‘jogging’ with Mike Hignite and it stiffened, causing me to fling myself headfirst into the waiting mud. I ran a lot when I was young and it was invariably on my mind to be careful of my foot catching me off guard. Sometimes, it would cramp while I was driving with my foot on the gas pedal.

If I run my finger along the scar on the bottom of my right foot, I can almost imagine that summer day again.

Thank God it’s not Friday, I say.
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P.S. The picture is of Jimmy and me at Dogpatch. The bottom inset picture is another one from the same day.

 

 

 

 

1975

101108 lynette house and misc (56)
The early summer mist still blanketed the encircling cotton fields. Grandpa poured me a cup of coffee and then held the screen door open for me to slither through. Instead of sitting on the long porch swing, we both stepped down onto the cut railroad ties in front of the porch and sat. Grandma’s coffee was always hotter than the top of a wood stove. I was expected to respect the dangers of hot coffee. We could hear grandma inside, fussing with the skillet of salt pork, bacon, and sausage. When I was young and with my grandparents, vegetarianism was unimaginable. Later, as Grandma noted my love for vegetables, she filled my plate and bowl relentlessly with corn, mustard greens, and beans of every kind. After a few minutes, the smell of breakfast filled the damp air. All of our stomachs grumbled in anticipation.

Grandpa pointed with his right hand as a reddish grey coyote bounded through the periphery of the cotton field to our left. It stopped in the gravel drive, his head sniffing the air. To me, they all resembled foxes. After a moment, he turned and ran through the mist and across the road. We watched as the mist above him churned to mark his passage.

Grandpa sloshed the remainder of his cup onto the grass and stood up. Just as I stood up, Grandma hollered from the back of the house, “Woolly, come on!” Because of the way she talked, I found it hard to believe that she was calling him Willie; my young ears could not distinguish the subtle difference.

Grandpa shrugged his shoulders and took my cup and sloshed it into the yard, too, indicating we’d better get inside before the call to eat intensified.

Salt pork, sausage patties, bacon, and buttered toast greeted us as we sat at the table. It was Tuesday, but looking back, it was a morning for kings, one of many that summer of 1975. The mist of that early morning over forty years ago still swirls in my mind. I awoke this morning with it fogging my senses.