This post isn’t what you’d expect. The title does convey an essential element of formal wear, though. Being fit brings a lot to the table. And also the absence of a lot, if you’re both humorous and literal.
Unless I’ve missed one in my minimalist clothes collection, I don’t own a tie. And if I did, I only briefly learned twice how to tie a real one properly; much of my experience was with a clip-on. Men aren’t supposed to admit this sort of thing – just as they aren’t supposed to admit to avoiding events requiring them. Sure, you’ll find a few pictures of me wearing a suit. They are all based on the magic of illusion. I’ve known a few men who love wearing suits and would admit it.
When I was younger, I went through a phase when I loved suit vests. I still do. Being overweight ruined the fun stupidity of them for me. I had a Snoopy vest that brought out the idiot in my eyes.
I’ll tell you that I don’t like the formal rigidity of suits. That’s true. As with suit vests, I like the feel and look of a suit coat when worn with incongruous jeans or comfortable pants. Modern suits that fit well cost more than my entire wardrobe, though. Hideous ones are, of course, almost free at several retailers.
Who we are inside them doesn’t change. Suits don’t add solemnity. Even though it paints me outside of normalcy, I don’t particularly appreciate that society nods its head and agrees that such things are worth the discomfort, cost, and hassle. This dislike approaches ridiculous irritation where formal attire might be expected. A wealthy crowd is easy to spot once you zero in on how well everyone looks in their suits.
Weirdly, though, I can see that some people and some suits look stunning, much in the way that the angularity and cut of a uniform might. None of these handsome people look like Danny DeVito, though. Many men find that suits are very attractive on a woman; ask yours, and you might be surprised.
The common denominator for a good suit is that the person wearing it already looks fit and at ease before putting them in the suit’s artificial embrace. Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt can’t save a K-Mart leisure suit, though. Now that I’ve written all that, I think I will have to buy a suit once one fits properly. The only question is whether it will be purple or gray. .
“I don’t look for exoneration, though I want it. There is no one in this world who can be both aware of my actions and the reasons for them except for me. Since I don’t pardon myself, I expect no less from others.” -X
I do look for understanding, and if that’s not possible, acceptance. All of us desire to know who we are and that who we are is of consequence to someone.
“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” I fail in this regard a lot, even as I continue to hope that others will assume no failure of character on my part.
“We judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions.” -S. Covey
If you think above these for a few moments, the hypocrisy of how true it all is numbing. I’m working on it. Honestly, I always will be. I can’t imagine aiming for an authentic life without such reflection.
Most of us tentatively feel our way through our lives, wanting more of the invisible things that bind us, yet distracted by things around us. Awakening to our houses’ solid walls, we forget that whatever else we are, we are not focused on the sublime and unknowable lives of satisfaction that could be ours. It is possible that you’re different than me, and that you don’t get distracted by the volume of “other” that surrounds and confounds me.
“The bitterness of knowing the truth is that it is impossible to unknow.” The same idea has been expressed in many ways. I see “the truth hurts, but lies are worse” frequently on social media. Like all universal knowledge, it becomes fuzzy and self-referential the more you try to grasp it.
Knowledge changes us, even if we turn the recognition of it away from prying eyes or panic that it will change us. Whatever we are is already essentially invisible, leading us to hold close the changes we can’t share. In part, it explains why people suddenly seem to change; they trapped their truth until it couldn’t be contained. While the catalyst might have exploded in a single moment, the ability to reveal ourselves is frightening.
We learn something, we figure another thing out, or knowledge breaches our defenses. When we compare it to what we knew before, it’s inescapable that we’ve changed too. Whatever malleable ideas make us a person, a new insight either dents us or expands us.
For those of you who don’t know the agony of insight, it often results in paralysis. Whether you understand that something fundamental to you cannot be right or that you’ve spent time furthering people or a life that you didn’t seek, it is at once liberating and confining. If I were a betting man, I would predict that the postcovid world will shatter us as we wonder if our attention wasn’t in the wrong direction. I do hope it continues to break us of our obsession for things.
Some of my insights include the idea that if God exists, he cannot be an interventionist. Unseen dangers fly above and around us and narrowly miss us with ridiculous frequency regardless of who we are or our accomplishments. That youth and health are no more a guarantee of a long life than any other factor. That certainty of the world or myself is the surest sign I am about to reminded that I am ignorant of both. That love is the glue that both expands and contracts.
Of all my insights, I think the one that traps us most might be that we are indoctrinated into the false promise of security by the right choices. It’s possible to make only the right choices and still fail – or be unhappy. It’s a bitter truth. With the finite number of breaths I was given, how could I possibly know what would lead me to a satisfied life? Not one without agony, because such lives are absent.
I find myself inside the pinball machine, bouncing from one reaction to the next – even as the tally of my remaining steps allotted to me fades. Because we’re human, I suspect you also often look out into the world and deeply feel the disparity between who you are and your place in it.
I have no answers. As I’ve aged, I’ve been glad to see that so many people have admitted that they are struggling for meaning and unsure of themselves. Those who seemed to have surety and confidence often are better at distraction or demeanor. A few years ago, I told a graduate that “the secret to life is most of us are winging it.” His dad, though a brilliant man, told me, “He is not ready for that certainty.”
With love comes turmoil. With life, hardness.
As late as yesterday, someone told me to “choose your hard.”
I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me for writing stories in related batches. Like any storyteller with a labyrinth of brain cells, I find myself wandering between branches of the same story. At times, what seems interesting to others is evident to me. In others? I’m clueless.
As I attempted to finish this, I thought of the innumerable times I’ve wondered about how I acted and what I was trying to say with this story. I’m not sure. It’s an apology at heart, though inexpertly written. It’s a wildly imperfect recounting, too. And that’s good enough for me. The day is too long to slow the urge to share. One of these days, as I write, it will be the last time I do so, though I won’t know it. As with the millions of stories everyone holds close to their secret hearts, they will vanish and with no witnesses to bring life to them.
As my senior year in high school ended, I moved to Elm Springs. I’ve written a few stories about it, both the violent end of my parent’s marriage and others about the whimsical encounters of life I experienced there. Nostalgia paints it in a way that evades mundane description.
This one is an apology. Though it is likely that the person I needlessly harmed doesn’t recall, I do. I’ve done so many things that are much worse than this. Trying to explain why my brain zeroes in on this relatively small story and goes back to my choice to be cruel offers no explanation.
A friend I didn’t initially know very well named Don Braden occasionally came over in the summer. I can’t even remember how it started for him to visit. For anyone to come over to my house was an anomaly. Only a couple of people in my childhood knew the shorthand of dread that I experienced at the idea of others knowing the content of what passed as a homelife for me. Many of us experienced this, and it is a strange common ground upon which to stand with human beings. A couple of childhood friends knew: Troy Duncan, Mike Hignite, and others to a much lesser degree. It is no accident that, despite the intervening distance, the fondness I feel for them is distilled nostalgia. I can’t explain why there were some people I could just say, “My parents are violent and drink too much. It might not be safe at my house. Also, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.” I have no gauge or measure to explain what allowed or compelled me to be forthcoming to some and guiltily silent with others.
Don would sometimes ride my terrible bicycle (or his, too maybe? – please pardon my lack of recall) as I ran several miles around the long circuit of the lake’s roads. He was an awkward guy – but certainly not to my level. I’m confident I misjudged how smart he turned out to be. He had a quick wit and smiled relentlessly. While I ran, having him talk to me was a welcome way to relax and melt the miles away.
One of the things Don didn’t know was how uncertain the storm of my Dad’s anger could be. I don’t recall Dad exploding in anger in front of Don, but I remember snarled mumbles and veiled complaints. Due to my limited ability to warn people, I didn’t know how to navigate the implications of just yelling out, “It might not be safe here.” Don gave no indication (that I remember) that he had any idea of what a terrible family life might be like. As I grow older, I am still astonished to discover that people precisely like me were hidden in plain sight. Some make my stories of vulgar violence seem meaningless. I think and hope that Don’s childhood is what shaped his effortless ability to laugh. And that he still possesses the superpower of humor.
If I did yell out a warning about my parents and didn’t remember doing it, I know that I wasn’t entirely honest. There were a couple of times before Dad ran off to Monroe County to start a new life that Don barely missed an outburst, both coming and going.
I liked running and riding with Don. But the fear of ‘something’ happening convinced me to be a lesser human being to him.
One early afternoon, Don drove over. He knocked. Instead of answering the door, I hid in the back. The console tv in the living room, visible from the front windows, blared. He waited. Finally, he retrieved a large watermelon from his vehicle. He broke it on the concrete porch in front of the house, creating a delicious mound of watermelon pieces and running juice. Instead of coming out and admitting I was at home, I went out the back door and waited. How long I waited, I don’t remember. Don ate handfuls of the watermelon. At some point, he decided that no one was at home or coming out. He cleaned his hands with the water spigot outside and left.
It was a dumb thing to do. In my defense, I was an idiot. I don’t know if it would have helped him to know that my stupidity and lack of understanding of how to deal with people was the problem – not him. I don’t understand how letting him stand outside with a broken watermelon could have saved him from any potential craziness had my Dad came home, much less violently. That seems to highlight precisely how muted my ability to be logical regarding my situation was.
I didn’t keep up with Don. I didn’t keep with most people. Don went to the Air Force, someone told me. And I was glad for him.
Though I found Don on social media. I didn’t reach out to him. He is smiling and apparently living a good life. I wouldn’t want him to remember that I was a jerk, nor to disturb his life. If Don miraculously ever reads this, I, of course, later figured out that Don could have been a great friend, especially if I could have been honest so he could see that I was just an idiot. It’s easier to be friends with an idiot than a bad person.
Not that my blip of hideous behavior could deflect someone from the trajectory of a great life, but it is increasingly evident that we have no idea whatsoever what the smallest thing can do to affect another person’s life. Given the terrible things I’ve said and done in this life, I haven’t been able to put this one aside. I can’t explain my reluctance to share other stories of pure craziness and yet find this one stuck in my throat.
The stretch of road near the dam often held a cloud of marijuana smoke as I went through, especially on those nights or pre-dawn early mornings when the air was dense from the nearby lake. There were a couple of houses that seemed to have a higher occupancy of partiers. That part of Northwest Arkansas was ideal for such families. Such areas dwindle with each subdivision. One late morning I ran too far and was run-walking the last couple of miles along E. Lake Road past the dam. A group of intoxicated people was crowded around the dubious porch and spilled into the yard. At least three grills were going. I don’t know if it was a mid-day party or just a typical day.
“Hey, you hungry?” shouted one of them. I waved and smiled, figuring the revelers were just shouting out to me from a combination of boredom and buzzed heads. (And that I could wave and keep walking.)
“Don’t be like that! We see you running by here all the time.” I had no choice except to go over and attempt to deal with what probably amounted to a drunkfest. One of the trucks had a decent pile of beer cans in the back already. It was impossible to discern whether the partial pile was permanent or recent. Of the twenty or so people in the yard, I’m sure all of them were smoking. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the few young children on the porch periphery were smoking, too.
At least 3 of them offered me a beer. There were coolers stacked on the ground and on the tailgates of several vehicles. “I have to run back home,” I said, to convince them I wouldn’t drink. It probably sounded funny to people who routinely drove with a beer between their legs. “Don’t run drunk” isn’t precisely bumper sticker material. If it were, you’d only hear in liberal California and not rural Washington County.
After considerable jostling back and forth about staying and eating something, I figured that I had to eat something, per the Grandma Rule. It’s a bit uncomfortable eating with people you don’t know. I think they were accustomed to doing it. Whatever I might say about them, I had no doubt that they exercised the ability to sit and eat or talk with anyone. That’s a gift that even someone like me can appreciate.
The grills smelled good. I wasn’t sure about what I might be eating. They had 5 or 6 kinds of chips and all the fixings to go on hamburgers or hot dogs. The steaks didn’t interest me. The tomatoes looked delicious and were sliced from thick, juicy tomatoes.
Grabbing a bun, I decided to go all-in with tomato slices. I didn’t even bother with a hamburger patty. I piled at least 10 tomatoes slices on the bun, along with mustard and ketchup. Immediately, one of the guys at the party shouted, “Look at that! That’s the most tomatoes I’ve ever seen on a burger!” Anyone sober enough to understand English turned or stood up to get a look at the weirdo with the over-piled bun of tomatoes.
I piled the side of my plate with ruffled chips and stood next to one of the pickups with its tailgate lowered. Picking up the hamburger, I mashed my mouth over it in one herculean push. When I bit down, tomato juice covered my chin. Several people laughed. While I ate the tomato burger, several people watched me, fascinated by my choice. It was delicious. I downed a coke after the burger.
No sooner than I sat on the edge of the pickup, one of the guys brought out several mason jars of clear liquid. I instinctively knew it was moonshine. Before I could devise an excuse to leave, several of them started saying, “Shine! Shine!”
“This is the best shine you’ve had in your life,” hollered someone. “And if you drink enough of it, you won’t remember you drank it.” Though it was a joke that probably echoed in that yard often, it brought laughs with it.
The man with the mason jars put them on a makeshift table made of plywood. Plastic cups appeared from nowhere, and he began to pour a decent amount into each. A younger woman standing nearby began handing them out. She didn’t ask me – she simply handed me one of the cups without asking. “Thanks, ma’am,” I told her. “Ma’am?” She said and laughed, punching me in the arm as she did.
“I’d say a toast, but y’all are too drunk,” said another one of the older men. “Let’s drink!”
Those who could understand spoken language raised their cups and took a gulp. I decided that I would be unable to avoid spitting and coughing and be a spectacle, so I did too. Shockingly, the moonshine was incredibly smooth. I did feel like my mouth and throat were coated with something highly flammable, but I didn’t cough. I drank the rest of it without making a face. “I’ll be damned!” said the man who brought out the moonshine. I laughed and said, “I come from a long line of drinkers.” My tongue was already numb. I would not dare light a cigarette after taking a drink of that concoction.
I stayed for several more minutes as more moonshine was consumed. To be clear, I didn’t drink more. That bit of shine in the cup was as much as I could ever drink.
“Hey, sir, what’s your name?” I asked the moonshine man.
“You can call me Hank,” he said and laughed.
I walked the rest of the way home that day, concerned because I had to go to work by mid-afternoon. My head had cleared in an intervening couple of hours.
In the days that followed, I did wave hello and shout, “Hey, Hank!” as I passed the house. One day, Hank’s girlfriend gave me a sack of ripe tomatoes on my way to work. Many times, they’d laugh when I shouted, “Hey Hank!” as I passed.
Weeks later, I ran by and waved and smiled at several people in the yard. “Hey, Hank!” I shouted.
A couple of the guys closer to the edge of the road looked at me.
“Who is Hank, dipsh#t,” one of them asked me.
“The guy in the yard, the one with the beard. That’s Hank,” I told him.
“That guy’s name is Pete.”
In my defense, he did tell me that I could call him Hank.
Whether or not feeling well warped my sense of self or feeling something inside me well up intolerably, I went out into the world for what I thought was the shortest of intervals today. Though you might doubt me, those moments stretched into a length that flowed without end.
Most people use the word ‘rueful’ in an exaggerated negative sense. I prefer the term to mean “expressing sorrow or regret, tinged with humor.” Those are the sublime connotations that often fuel me. Humor is what shields me; bittersweet fringes give me pause to ponder at the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of life. Swimming in the valley between them is a blessing interspersed with the unknown horizon.
My limited interactions while out in the world today reminded me of life’s sublime ability to be filled with our exclusive perceptions. Today’s moments were wrapped in the lightest of gauze and applied with gentle attention. To walk in a world so gossamer each day would be my undoing.
Such attention to the essential ruins us in our endless and needless desire to see the things around us instead of our interconnections.
During the first encounter, the female clerk ran across the recently-mopped floor, risking life and limb simply because she thought a customer might have waited too long. She made eye contact with me, and I said, “Please don’t worry. Nothing at hand deserves any stress.” While she wore a mask, I could see her eyes widen in curiosity. Her eyes then darted behind me as she noted another customer behind me tapping his foot and shifting his weight.
It’s when the shift I felt toppled inside me and made me lopsided.
As she handed me back the change, I tapped it and said, “This is for you, if you can accept it. And if not, let it be for someone who will soon approach who needs it.” Her eyes widened and became tear-laden. She nodded, unable to say anything. Not from awkwardness or loss of words, because whatever became momentarily off-kilter inside me became the same for her. It was tangible.
I walked away. The next two interactions were similar, even though it would be easy to dismiss them as figments of my feverish mind. *
“With careful toes, I pranced through my life, to awaken no one. And in so doing, the ones who should have noted my passing failed to look up and witness me.”
“Just call me a cartographer – because this post will be all over the map.” – X
Everyone is going to have their ‘last funeral’ story. Perhaps not the last of each person’s life, but the last one not impacted by covid. While my last precovid funeral wasn’t traditional, it happened in January before the country felt the virus’s hammer.
Jackie wanted a gathering of friends as a commemoration. It happened at her home in Springdale. I knew a few of the people at the gathering but most shared nothing in common with me. It was a fact that Jackie would have laughed about. One of the most complicated puzzles I had ever made with pictures was prominently displayed on the coffee table in the intimacy of their living room. The puzzle contained innumerable pictures detailing their lives. I made it with care and attention. It was an affirmation to know that it touched them enough to find a place at Jackie’s last gathering. The video and music I crafted played on loop on the large monitor nearby. Having learned the hard lesson of no backup plan, I had the video on dvd and flash drive and an executable folder of music and pictures if the other two methods failed.
Though I unexpectedly liked a couple of Post Malone’s songs before, I included a piano version of two of his songs. When I have my guard down, I sometimes hear the melodies and remember the absurdity of including it in Jackie’s memory video. I can’t imagine Jackie liking Post Malone; I know that this piano version would have struck her heartstrings with unerring certainty. In part, that expresses how I got to know her – often indirectly and through a constant barrage of banter and conversation. I also included three songs I wrote, one of which I know Jackie loved.
I said my goodbyes in the same way I got to know her: through pictures. The family asked me to do the montage of photos and choose the music. It’s a rare thing for people to trust me so intimately. I’ve known some people all my life who skipped past me for weddings (even one who I originally became ordained for) or overlooked the few things I can do well. In a way that is not immediately easy for me to write, Jackie and her husband seemed at ease with me, even despite our marked differences. I’m sure that some of my pranks were a bit too much for them – but that my intent always found favor with them.
I was volunteered into their circle by my mother-in-law, who worked with Jackie and her husband at the hospital, as did my wife and sister-in-law. What started as a simple project ultimately gave me access to their entire lives of private pictures and images. While I began by scanning hundreds of hospital pictures, I was soon compiling decades of family history.
I frequently see the thousands of pictures I carefully scanned and indexed in my photo archives, and my heart both swells and painfully beats. It was a project that I hoped would never find its end.
Even though this sort of thing is both a love and hobby of mine, it still strikes me to know that people close to me failed to take advantage of my willingness to ensure that everyone’s memories could be reproduced, protected, and shared; such endeavors leave no one without access. It’s true that on a long enough timeline, we all fade – along with everything we can touch, where we stand, and even the planet itself. Pictures have their most value while someone is alive who remembers the people in the picture.
I still see people in agony over lost videos and pictures. It’s work to keep track of our lives. It’s more work to organize it for everyone coming after us. They’ll want to see our memories. The truth is that most people, even ones who seem to appreciate the frailty of such memories, don’t take the care necessary to share them openly and widely. It’s the only way to ensure the survival of the pictures we find to be cherished.
Jackie and her husband were undoubtedly part of the backbone of the community. Both were well-known and respected. Apart from teasing back and forth about me doing something ridiculous with their treasure chest of pictures and albums, they never doubted my love for the project or that I might somehow misuse their photographs.
Because I maintained an archive of all the thousands of pictures Jackie shared with me, it was no stretch to know that I could manage a retrospective of her life when she died. That I hadn’t shared much of her life was immaterial. Anyone could see that I had an affection for her that defied our vast age difference. I continue to regret that I didn’t know her for longer. It is possible that we would not have aligned so well earlier in my life. Having thought about it in the last few months, I’m convinced it’s true.
Part of my regret of not knowing her longer is that many of her stories passed with her. I discovered quickly that both Jackie and her husband were living repositories of fascinating stories. I intended to ask her to share several hours with me with the hopes of getting her story written in a way that would bear her signature wit and charm. She became ill before that come could to fruition.
But I still have this hoard of pictures, often waiting for me to open them and peer inside. I know that I honored Jackie by taking a piece of my life and preserving hers. I made sure that everyone had copies and access; no one was left in the rain. We don’t own pictures, though we foolishly think otherwise. We are custodians, with transitory possession of these lives and this world.
The day of her death races away from me, sliding into the past, as all deaths do.
Life marches forward with callous step and indifferent regard.
As Jackie’s life fades from human memory, I watch the world and wonder about the depth of visual memory and story being lost. But it is not because of me. I’ve tipped the balance in my favor and find myself unable to stop asking people to drop their pretenses and share who and what they are with the world.
In continued memory of Jackie Lou and with a renewed dedication to the joy of pictures, X.
A few months ago, as most people experienced weight gain purportedly due to the pandemic, the same circumstances made it initially easy for me to eat healthier. For no reason, I started eating healthier on Feb. 1st. I made it through April without too much difficulty. More surprisingly, I was optimistic about continuing the process for months to come. I have my list of excuses, not the least of which was doing more work in less time at work, making my back, shoulder, and ultimately my foot hurt more. Also, the stress of the pandemic impacted me more than I realized. More importantly, another kind of stress crept into my life out of left field. It’s the kind of stress resulting from peeking into corners you don’t dust or illuminate; it bears a resemblance to hope, no matter how contradictory that sounds. Knowing I haven’t paid the price to be who I should be affects me. The chasm between knowing it and taking action to get there is positively scary. I see others trapped in a holding pattern similar to mine. We’re all going to climb out of these holes. Some of us have a greater distance to get there, but the vitality of the commitment to do differently and experience different lives will get us there.
Not that it’s a negative, but when the pandemic started, my in-laws thankfully moved to town after years of living in BFE. We created an informal tradition of meeting on Saturday evening for communal supper. Those occasions are not filled with healthy choices. Having an unhealthy meal ahead of me mentally derailed me and gave me the excuse to eat with abandon since I would jump into the fat puddle on Saturday evening anyway. It’s a poor excuse, but one I know affects me.
Sitting on the fringe is also the knowledge that I’m less a fan of meat still. I eat it because of convenience or because others do. It’s hard to get back to eating very little meat when the world around me spins a different way. Meat consumption triggers me to eat other unhealthy things. I’m oversimplifying – but it is a certainty that I’ve long recognized: eating very little meat always coincides with much healthier eating, and my weight drops alongside the change. I’d go so far as to say that it becomes easy to drop weight without meat. Finding a way to overcome the demands of those around me to consume it is a challenge. I do most of the cooking, so taking a different route requires more time and energy and tends to come across as selfish behavior.
When my brother died, I recognized that I had the chance to use it as a marker and reminder. I would recall it frequently for a while; that recollection could be a mental rubber band for me. Likely, other people’s brains don’t work quite that way.
In a way, the comments about eating meat align with those about my brother. “I don’t really eat meat,” running through my head reminds me that I don’t feel happy doing the other things either. Because of my brother’s long decline, I relearned many lessons that should serve me going forward. All of them involve recognizing risk and choosing people and lives that make satisfaction in life an attainable goal.
Because I didn’t want to get on the scale and weigh myself, I did so immediately instead of dreading it. It was worse than I expected: 225. Ouch.
I’ve written about the fact before that our tendency to conceal our weight is a bit of folly. A good eye can accurately guess our weight anyway, especially if we’ve added a spare tire or our shirts look like they were dried on extremely high heat for an hour.
Rather than focus on weight, I started giving myself a grade each day. Yes, it is subjective. Though, I “know” how my healthy eating for the day went. If someone buys a bag of pretzel sticks and I participate in their consumption in the evening, it’s a worse grade. Or, if there’s pizza with a thick crust and real cheese.
It’s amusing to me that I love vegetables. It’s hard to get this overweight eating vegetables.
It’s folly to commit to healthier eating with the long slog of the holiday months approaching. I guess I’m wired for folly. The yo-yo of my stupidity is supremely stupid.
Meanwhile, another friend I once knew well chose surgery to help her weight loss. She dropped an incredible amount of weight. She’s almost unrecognizable. The smile on her face is one of radiant satisfaction. Whether she needed surgical help or not, she committed to the choice of making it happen.
I can’t see over the horizon. But I know that I have a lot of upheaval coming – and not just because that’s the way life is. I suspect that every pound I keep needlessly will throw a right hook if I don’t drop it. I’m looking more and more to a different future and see the path to get there. In none of those futures of hope do I weigh more than 180. I think of how I felt when I was last that weight, and though it is still ‘heavy’ by actuarial measures, I felt genuinely light.
Every pound is a result of my choices, no matter what preceded them. It’s analogous to the choices or laziness that’s lead me to this point.
Writing this sort of thing down is a motivator for me. Not because someone can use my bravado against me. I can pivot back to these days and remember when I looked ahead to a different way and a ‘me’ living the life the way I should.
Although similar thoughts have passed through my porous brain over the years, I admit that the “Brooklyn 99” episode with Gina forced me to laugh out loud. I’ve said “blank” or “unintelligible mumble” in the past. Gina’s use of “redacted” was funnier, perhaps in part to the fact that not everyone would use the word in everyday conversation.
Have something you’d like to say but not say it? Want to curse but can’t? Have something potentially offensive? “Redacted” is your word.
In much the same way that saying “Karl” (from “Sling Blade”) denotes sharing a deep feeling for me, I find “redacted” increasingly serving in that capacity, too.
I made a gif to commemorate the word’s increased usage in my private vocabulary.
Recently, a friend posted about kayaking on Lake Elmdale. He also mentioned that many people seem to be unaware of its existence. (The lake, not kayaking – although I do wonder if such people who kayak really exist.) I tend to agree with him. Lake Elmdale is an artificial lake built in 1953. It derives its name from a mix of the names for Elm Springs and Springdale communities. I think they missed their chance by not naming it something extraordinary, like “Devil’s Tooth Lake,” or even “Drowning Hole.” Arkansas already boasts Nimrod Lake, named after Noah’s grandson. (Sorry, but the word “Nimrod” was forever redefined by Looney Tunes.)
Since I have your attention, in 1950, Springdale had a bit over 5,000 people. Ten years later, the population doubled. Elm Springs started at 217 and, by 1960, added a whopping 21 additional people.
I have dozens of stories from my youth involving this body of water. Many from my early childhood are fishing stories involving my Dad and Uncle Buck or a rotating series of misfits called friends. Other stories are from the time when I lived in Elm Springs in the mid-80s.
If you look at the picture, you can see one of the lake access roads on the right, about halfway up. Just a short drive beyond, and you can take a left on Lakeview and quickly reach Elm Springs road. Continuing on the circuitous route past the lake entrance, and you’ll emerge on Elm Springs Road further east and headed to what is now I-40. This story is really about the roadway’s right side, where the lake access ramp road intersects with E. Lake Road.
(GPS coordinates if such things interest you.)
My Dad loved a good scare while driving. Whether it involved turning off the headlights at any random moment, cutting unexpectedly through a field (fence or not), jumping out of the vehicle if it were going slowly enough, leaving the wheel to whoever might be both inside and paying attention, shooting a pistol or shotgun from inside the cab, playing chicken with unsuspecting people dumb enough to be on the road at the same time, driving on railroad tracks (sometimes suspended) over creeks, marshes, and rivers, or hitting things for no discernible reason, my Dad often had no limits.
I know that the last sentence is intolerably long. I wanted to pile it all out there to give you an idea of the level of crazy that might Dad exhibited. Sometimes, it was scary. Looming death tends to be that way. Other times, it was fun – but after the fact. Surviving such ‘fun’ colors the ability to laugh about it.
My apologies for taking so long to get to the point. Before this picture was taken, the road was less maintained. Edges weren’t graded appropriately, and erosion and run-off worsened already bumpy or uneven roads. This specific spot was no exception.
While I don’t remember the first time Dad revved his truck to 50+ mph and fly across the edge of this entrance as he passed, I remember coming off the cab’s seat and floating for the briefest instant. Whether the vehicle had a solid axle or good suspension had a say in managing the landing. If you’re thinking of the Dukes of Hazzard reading this, you’re not far off the mark. Though you might think I am exaggerating, Dad once convinced me and my brother Mike that he would do it at 80 mph. He did, after telling us he was going to for a long approach. Our butts were clenched until the point we realized that Dad wasn’t bluffing. Afterward, I felt that Dad would have regretted doing it had he not been three sheets to the wind. When I tell the story, I usually say, “I could see Kansas from up there.” It’s a joke. It was decently dark when Dad took that last quarter of a mile stretch before hitting the bump at 80 mph. After keeping the truck in the road, he hit the brakes and skidded to a full stop. He took the Camel cigarette out of his mouth with a flourish, looked at Mike and me cowering against the other door panel, and said, “Which one of you wants to drive and do it again?” Dad took the same jump, albeit slower than 80 mph, while we were in the back of the truck in the bed, too. We failed to determine whether clutching the truck’s side was safer or to lay against the tailgate.
At times, Dad doing this sort of thing would involve Mom being in the car or truck with him. Mom’s reaction to being scared like this can best be described as “murderous rage” or by one of her signature phrases, “Go# Da## It, Bobby Dean!” shouted at ear-piercing levels. If it lands me in hell for saying so, I’ll admit that hearing her squawk like that was amusing as long as we weren’t witnessing the oft-overlooked attempted murder aspect of many of our weekends.
If you are wondering if Dad ever wrecked, broke an axle, or blew out a tire doing these things, the answer is “yes.” Likewise, if you wonder if any of us ever suddenly experienced bladder control issues, you’d be right for questioning.
On one occasion, Dad drove with his boss back to his house in Elm Springs. The truck was a Cheyenne or Chevrolet truck of some sort, one of their favorites to restore. In those days, rednecks often stated with confidence, “I have to blow the cobwebs out.” Being young, I didn’t understand the cliché but did know that it roughly translated to mean, “I’m going to go incredibly fast and possibly die in this vehicle.” Dad wasn’t drinking. I was in the bed of the truck with Duke, Dad’s german shepherd. Charles sat upfront up with Dad. He had a cigar in his mouth as he often did. Charles was also married to one of Dad’s cousins. I didn’t figure that out until years later.
We drove down Highway 112 and turned on E. Lake Road leading to the lake. About halfway between Highway 112 and the lake, Dad slowed and shouted to me out the window, “White lightning!” I immediately realized that it was a “go” for Operation Scare the Boss Shi$less.” The phrase could refer to the hell-raising 1973 movie starring Burt Reynolds or to moonshine – and sometimes both.
About 100 yards from the side road to the lake, Dad pushed the gas hard and shifted gears. As we hit the bump and sailed off the ground, I laughed. I heard Charles scream in surprise and then scream at Dad, asking if he’d lost his ever-loving mind. By the time we reached Charles’ house, he was laughing and jokingly cursing at Dad.
One more note. Thanks to Dad, I learned how to drive through barbed-wire fences, closed gates, front lawns, flooding creeks, and just about anything else. Here’s the secret: you have to not give a damn about what happens when you do it. Once you master that skill, sober or inebriated, you too can be an amateur stuntman. I wish that I had experienced that version of my Dad freed from alcohol. There’s no doubt he would have still managed to convince me I might die at a given moment.
When my brother Mike came home from leave in the Army, I didn’t get to spend much time with him. Life’s demands and the constraints of his limited time conspired against us. We did drive the road leading to Lake Elmdale, though. I knew Mike was going to ask before we ever approached the jump zone. “Should we?” he asked me, laughing. We were in my car. He was driving. “How can we not?!” I shouted. We hit the bump going 50 mph. As soon as we started to lift, Mike regretted testing his courage. After the adrenaline subsided, we drove for another hour along what once were quieter roads. 33 or 34 years have passed.
In the years since, in the spirit of full disclosure, I too have excessively sped toward that same bump without warning the occupants of the car. Though the ridge is considerably flatter than it once was while I am much fatter, it never fails to fill me with nostalgia for both the times that were and those which weren’t.