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Drink It Forward

 

It was dark and I was driving carefully, unlike the demolition derby driver I impersonate when the sun is shining. As I pulled in to the Firewater parking lot, I had to unexpectedly yield to an older man riding his scooter across the parking lot in order to go through the drive-through. His face was one of determination. I laughed because I imagined that he had traveled far in order to get his liquor of choice.

By way of preface, Firewater is a strange little liquor store away from any residential area. A liquor store is a place where one can purchase, among other things, alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is one of those chemicals, when taken in moderation, which will drastically improve your ability to cope with everyone else but conversely will worsen almost every encounter you engage in with another living person, all the while blinding you to your own debilitating lack of judgment. A drive-through is a window at a liquor store in which all parties legally pretend that the person purchasing said liquor doesn’t have more than a 50% chance of imbibing on the way to whatever destination awaits him. (This paragraph will never be used in a Budweiser commercial.)

As I waited at the register to pay for my poison, the elderly gentleman on the scooter was outside, looking inside at the impatient manager, trying to find change to reach his quota in order to get his bottle of flavored vodka. The manager’s face told me the unspoken story of just how many times the man on the scooter had bottlenecked the drive-through like this. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that there was going to be insufficient change to pay for the bottle he had requested. I motioned for the man in charge to look in my direction and offered to pay for the bottle. He told the clerk helping me to add ninety-three cents to my total. I pointed out that I offered to pay for the entire bottle, not just the difference in change.

“Wow, that’s a nice offer. How do you know him? He’s a regular.” The clerk seemed to be asking out of curiosity rather than politeness.

“I’ve never met him. I almost ran him over, coming in as he drove his scooter across the street and into the parking lot. But I’ve known many, many people like him.”

“Well, he’s a character, that one.” The clerk laughed.

The manager at the drive-through window told the man on the scooter that I had paid the difference.

The old man froze and looked inside to see who I was. “Well, thanks, Mister.” He nodded his head in acknowledgment.

“Pay it forward,” I said, and smiled.

“I’ll most certainly drink it forward,” he quipped and cackled like someone who had just discovered a free pizza on his kitchen table, after already being handed a 6-pack of his favorite beer.

I nodded back and the clerk and I looked at each quizzically for a long second and then we both laughed, too. We had taken an awkward situation and made it one of frivolous merriment.

“Hey, you know what?” The clerk asked. “IF you want to pay for a bottle, I’ll give you an extra discount and hold it for the man on the scooter for next time. It will give him such a kick in the pants to be given a surprise.”

“As long as YOU don’t drink it forward, yeah, that will be great. And do me a favor when he comes in. Ask him how fast he can go on that scooter.”

“Will do. Have a great night out there, sir.”

So, on some future night, if you see an elderly black man riding his scooter, restraining an impressive smile on his face, you can think of me. Vodka can power a few smiles, for a little while.

May we all drink it forward as we pass through our respective places.

The Morning of Shoes

I walked down the middle of Pleasant Street this morning. It lived up to its name for once. There was a single shoe in the exact middle of the road. It wouldn’t have surprised me to find an unattached foot in it but it turned out to have a pair of sunglasses inside. I tossed it to the sidewalk, hoping that no one with sun allergies was wandering the metropolis sans shoe. I know it’s not safe or smart to walk in the road, especially when every fifth car is probably being navigated by someone smelling of the fumes of a Corona or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I’ve often mentioned how liberating it is to own the road and the slumbering town around it. It is a sensation that I already know that I’ll miss when infirmity eventually robs me of my ability to walk the abandoned nighttime roads.

Seeing the high school from every angle certainly amplified the size of the place compared to when I crawled the halls there. It is much more majestic in the deep night, each light inside highlighting a plaque, a shadowy doorway, or polished surface. It was the embodiment of an empty world awaiting its inhabitants, both timeless and anticipatory. It is a haunted place, its souls imprinted there from the thousands of students and faculty who’ve resided within, concentric lives centered upon a collective of buildings with a single purpose.

Walking around business 71, I couldn’t help but intercept a group of young people exiting an eatery. One of the young men had a mostly finished bottle of beer in his hand. He raised it in salute and then turned to laugh with his other friends. I couldn’t imagine drinking at 5 a.m. and still be laughing. It’s a sure sign of old age when a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair defeats the call of the wild and youth. Although they wouldn’t understand the joke, I wanted to yell, “Get off my lawn!” in mock humor.

As I passed McDonald’s, I had the momentary urge to run inside and order 15 breakfast sandwiches and eat them all, without even bothering to take the paper off the outside first. The aroma was momentarily maddening, like when you visit a pizzeria and get your first sniff of the yeasty crust, certain that you will literally die before getting a bite of it. After a moment though, the siren call of the aroma changed and soured in my head to one of cloying grease in a pan of cooling water.

Heading back to my car, my feet demanded that I walk another long circuit, this time around the circumference of Murphy Park, a beautiful place transformed by the recent modernization of its features. As I was watching the geese and the ducklings circling around them near one of the central fountains, I didn’t notice the form seated on one of the trailside benches. He was seated, motionless, a hoodie covering his head against the chilly air. Had he screamed “Boo!” as I approached, I would have undoubtedly needed a new pair of underwear. I said “Guten morgen” instead of “Hello,” and he didn’t reply, move or give any sign that he saw me – or indeed that he was even alive at all. I’ll admit I looked back at least twice as I moved away from him. For all I know, he was the grim reaper, having lost his scythe. I saw no reason to invite any trouble, despite that fact that trouble has me on speed-dial.

Peering into the library from a distance, it occurred to me that I’m a terrible criminal. I’d rather break into the library and sit among the million books than magically appear in a bank vault. At the heart of the matter is the insufficient number of minutes allotted in life. No matter how pronounced my greed to consume even 1% of all the books, life’s stop sign will reach me before I can fulfill such a desire. Even though I love libraries, I still dislike hoarding books myself. I have a very few at home, nestled in a box, ones with names like “Night of the Avenging Blowfish” and titles in Spanish. The best books live a little each day in my mind, memories of other worlds and people. They are far safer there, virtually comforting me.

If you find another solitary shoe in the road in Springdale, pick it up and drive by the park and library. Toss the shoe into the bushes. Just don’t make eye contact with the faceless void of anyone wearing a hoodie.

Guest Post: Erika Saboe – A Musical Memory

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When I was 15 I had a very emotional time. I was horribly sad. Enough so that I asked my parents to commit me. What I was going through seemed so insurmountable I could not fathom working through it. My parents did not ignore my plea. And for a month I was institutionalized.

It was almost like a twisted resort of sorts… I had a private room but a shared bathroom, I didn’t mind that. My days were scheduled for me. When meals occurred, when activities happened, etc.

When you arrived you were stripped of all boons. No music or pleasantries you were used to. This was before cellphones or internet. My makeup was taken away. One could break the mirror in a compact or the the glass a nail polish bottle was made of and use it as a weapon or device to cause pain. The bathroom mirror was a sheet of metal to allow us a way to see ourselves and ready for the day without being dangerous.

Walkmans were big then. Cassettes. We didn’t have cd’s at this point. They were a privilege. So any kid who checked in lost theirs until they earned it back. You did well you raised a level and got privileges.

For some odd reason…. they did not find mine when checking my luggage. They took everything else but… my Walkman was still there with one cassette in it.

What did I do when seeing so? I stood on my bed and lifted the ceiling tile. Put it above me. Every single night while I was there I would elevate, push my fingers and lift that tile. Pull that Walkman out and listen to Crosby Stills & Nash. I have no idea how they didn’t catch me but I am so thankful they didn’t.

This song, it played so much it has become a trigger for the memory.

I’m aware now, as an adult, that the world is a painful place even when usually comforting. Sadness… it is nothing more than an emotion we feel every day.

Nonetheless this song I wear close to my sleeve due to the memory shared.

Crosby, Stills & Nash – Helplessly Hoping

A Snarky Response to Hypocrisy

I’m not a good person.

I can’t be.

Today, I read a social media post from someone lecturing his friends about posting false claims about drinking from copper mugs. You’ve probably seen these posts yourself. The specifics don’t matter – not really.

My friend ranted about people not checking sources and making untrue claims. He undoubtedly was standing on a literal soapbox as he typed his post to berate his friends for being so ignorant. His eloquence rivaled that of a drunken sailor reading a Portuguese dictionary while blindfolded.

I almost choked on my coffee.

I waited, hoping to hear the clap of thunder and lightning from where I was sitting as it came from the sky and struck my friend for hypocrisy. I finally started breathing a little later as I realized that no cosmic justice was forthcoming.

This admonition came from the same guy who fervently believes that this planet is only a few thousand years old, that nothing about evolution can possibly be true, that racism isn’t real (unless you count the prejudice that white males now suffer in society), that the car industry secretly hid a vehicle which would get 100 miles to the gallon, etc. Also, I almost forgot to mention that he thinks climate change is totally bogus.

But I did forget the big comment: he dips tobacco. Tobacco is all natural, so it can’t possibly harm you, he would say. I guess uranium would be next on his list to sample?

But hey! Stop trying to tell people on your own social media that you think copper mugs are poisonous. He was quite clear in his implication that you are a degenerate moron if you do.

I don’t have any interest in the argument. I don’t care if copper mugs are poisonous or if looking directly at one will turn my grandmother into a vampire.

I think I’ll visit the local chapter of the Flat-Earth-Society, though, and save this guy a seat. Somehow, I just KNOW he’s a charter member.

 

The 4th Of Course

 

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I tried to take a long walk this morning, even as the intermittent rain came to say hello. It was foggy and misty and felt like an abandoned world. Most of the houses were quiet, shuttered against last night’s war-like barrage of amateur fireworks. I didn’t find any bloody fingers or stick-impaled eyeballs, which surprised me, given both the age and impaired decision-making from last night’s festivities. Some of the house sidewalks and streets were littered with the corpses of hundreds of dollars worth of explosives. When you live in certain neighborhoods, it is pointless to expect anyone to be sensible about such things. A few of the houses looked like a party had been mysteriously vacated, with all the attendees dropping their beverage cans on the ground, leaving their fireworks in the grass and scattered on the sidewalk.

Last night, I watched the children a few houses down. Though this is Arkansas, I was surprised by the level of shenanigans these kids were exhibiting. It’s hard to surprise me about anything firework-related, as I was one of those kids who had access to literally any fireworks being made. When I was young, we had bottle rocket and Roman candle wars and there was no dare or challenge which went unaccepted when the 4th rolled around.

I always overcome my old-age sensibilities about fireworks. If someone blows off a hand, I will rush out and help them but it is a losing battle to try to curtail fireworks in residential neighborhoods unless one’s house is set on fire. (PS: But I’ll keep the hand as a souvenir.) All things considered, the 4th of July is good for the ER business.

The noteworthy event this morning was the older car which drove by without any lights about 5 minutes into my walk. Whoever was driving didn’t understand the fundamentals of a clutch, either. I could hear both the horrible sounds of grinding metal and the circus-like beat of Norteño music, one of the few genres which holds no appeal for me. About 100 feet past me, the car ran up onto the curb and stalled. A man exited the car and stumbled around to the back as if looking to see how far up on the curb he had driven. He stumbled back and it seemed like his head bounced off the car door as he bent and dropped back into the driver’s seat. I laughed, which probably demonstrates something about my character. The car revved and the clutch screeched as the car jumped off the curb and back into the road. Just as I was about to cringe from observing an impending collision with a car on the wrong side of the wrong, the mysterious car veered back into the middle of the street and kept moving. Instead of succumbing to my curiosity, I turned and walked the other way. I’m assuming the driver made it to wherever he thought he might be going. For my part, I didn’t feel like being a reluctant witness to a property damage report this morning.

In so many ways, the early morning of the 4th is like New Years Day: most of the world is sleeping and momentarily ignorant of whatever bad decisions were made the night before.

One of these days, I’m going to buy several 1,000 or 10,000 pack firecrackers and light them in random places across the neighborhood at about 5 a.m. I’ll choose the houses which have piles of volcanic grenades and fireball launchers left on the public sidewalk or in the street. It’ll be hard for those hypocrites to complain as I laugh at them when they groggily open their doors or peer through their windows, cursing. I did this more than once when I was younger and as mean as it might sound, it never failed to elicit a laugh, even from the ‘victim,’ although the mirth on their part always came later. (“It’s hard to laugh when you’re wearing a bathrobe.”)

Being old has its advantages. I might not stay up to watch the fireworks (which coincidentally look like every preceding firework display ever made), but I will get up at my normal hour to conduct my own fireworks display in your front yard, should you choose to fire off enough explosives to launch a war in the Middle East.

PS: When I was young, I saw the national fireworks display and a few years later got to sit at the literal edge of an ill-advised display at Lake Atalanta, inside the launching perimeter. It’s hard for anything to ‘wow’ me after those.

Invisible Fingers in Our Minds

Whether it’s on social media or in a blog, I’m constantly surprised by the eternal nature and reach of the internet. We all see to travel a similar trajectory of recognition when we discover music, words, or content which move us. When people find and identify with things I’ve written, it’s a fulfiling sensation.

The video below is something I did last year, after brawling with people who insist on editing history or controlling the content of their friends and family social media. This tendency is especially evident after someone passes from this world.  All those stories and truths which might wound get buried with that person, too, if we aren’t careful. I’ve long fought the battle against censoring anyone’s full story.

I’m a big believer in sharing the content of our lives as it unfolds. It’s true that our perspective will change even toward the facts of our lives as we grow older. We tend to either blossom outwardly, taking our secrets out there with us, or contract and hide within an ever-narrowing caccoon.

In this case, someone else happened upon my blog, and out of the hundreds of blog posts that still remain, watched this video. It sparked a renewal to write their story, no matter who liked it or not, and regardless of whether it was well-done by any objective standard.

 

 

Paris Climate Deal is Not Mentioned In This Post

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Tired of politics?

After careful consultation with esteemed political consultants, my wife and I are proud to announce that our cat, Güino, will soon announce his candidacy for political office.

Since he doesn’t talk, he won’t be lying like so many others. Additionally, we can interpret his meows to mean anything that appeals to us – thus solving the biggest problem in politics today.

Finally, Güino has all 9 of his lives remaining and he has pledged to use them all to improve this great country of ours.

Given the shenanigans of the last election, Güino has decided to reach across the aisle (unlike current politicians) and choose a dog to-be-named-later as his Vice President, thus healing the divide of this country.

Please remit funds for his candidacy to your local Humane Society.

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I think I’m fixated on food: when I taught the children how to tie their shoes, I demonstrated the garlic knot.

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As I walked the winding decline of the parking deck, I felt as if I were being watched by a dozen pairs of unseen eyes. When I had walked down to the next level I realized my error. Above the steps going both up and down was a sign: “STARES ONLY.”

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Vindicated…

Long personal story…. Please read knowing that all businesses, no matter their reputations, have countless great employees who don’t misbehave and/or don’t appreciate how their employers conduct business. It’s a conundrum we all face with businesses. Unless my issue is with a specific person, I in no way wish for people reading my words to think I’m painting all employees of any business with a broad brush of accusation.

A couple of years ago, I shared a story with you about Arvest mistreating my wife. An ATM failed to give her $400. She reported it immediately and Arvest fixed the error. Months later, without notice, they reached into her checking account without permission and without telling her and took the same $400 back out. There was no appeal. They had waited months, after all video evidence was gone, and without following up. Dawn politely worked to get the error fixed. Not only did she not get the error fixed, but a couple of the people working at the bank had an attitude which was dismissive, as if Dawn somehow had lied about what happened. Dawn’s feelings were hurt, to say the least. She’s polite and was certain that logic and patience would fix the problem. No one at the bank cared.

Dawn responded by deciding to leave Arvest, after many years of doing business with them. She took all of her accounts and later we got another mortgage to get away from their shenanigans.

Just because I can, I have also frequently picked on Arvest on social media. I’ve been polite, but I’ve satirically jabbed at them a few hundred times and made several memes to poke fun at the bank.

Yesterday, before coming home, we stopped at our community mailbox and checked the mail. I handed the mail to Dawn, who was seated in the passenger seat. I told her, “Look, you got a big check from Arvest,” and laughed. We joked that it was one of those fake mailers, especially since it didn’t have postage. Also, we had never given Arvest our new address, having wiped them off our feet before we ever decided to move.

I told Dawn to open the Arvest envelope. Lucky for us, she did, instead of discarding it. Inside was a check addressed to Dawn, in the amount of $400. In read, in part: “…during a review… we determined one of more disputes was denied in error. Due to this error, we are enclosing a check…” It was an unsigned form letter with no explanation as to how they got Dawn’s address, nor did it contain any sort of apology.

The look on Dawn’s face was priceless.

More than the $400 Dawn got in the mail, the admission that Arvest screwed up a couple of years ago when we said they did is worth much, much more than that. It should have never happened, because Dawn would have stayed with the bank for the rest of her life, if possible. Now we have the magical words in writing and those words all this time later prove that we weren’t lying or crazy: Arvest took $400 of Dawn’s money without cause and worsened the problem by strangling us with bureaucracy and apathy.

It’s easy to get a customer, but very difficult to get one back after you’ve mistreated them. You should never let a customer walk all over you, but you should also remember that customers are people. The $400 is nice, but nicer still would have been for one person at Arvest a couple of years ago willing to stand up and say, “Enough. We can’t do this to a customer. It is our error.”

PS: You should always address customer service issues or old business before taking any steps toward acquiring new business. The disgruntled folks are going to eat your lunch telling their stories.