Of Hope And Happiness On A Sunday

Flying Blind

Meeting someone new
Enjoying each other’s company
Feelings of friendship forming

The thought that a person
Can feel love towards another,
Can accept another,
And can create a friendship
That is as meaningful
As any other

In true friendship there is love
A love that, if it is not hindered
Could found a firm relationship
And when it is controlled,
There is a bond formed
That will keep the two friends
In touch for life.

Songs On A Plane

This happened to me on a return trip to New Orleans after visiting a good friend in Washington D.C. for a weekend.  I absentmindedly wrote it in a note on my phone thinking that I would revisit it later when I got home and only recently rediscovered it this week there at the bottom of my list of random notes and grocery lists.  It is a theme that I have struggled with for about three decades.  The challenge for 2018 is to embrace both sides of this coin and try to accept my heartbreaks while also to living my life to the fullest when possible.

May 14, 2017
As I fly home, my music plays on shuffle in my noise-canceling headphones.  The first song arrives during takeoff and is “Empty Promises” by Black Label Society.  It’s a dark, sad, metal anthem from their latest album, “Catacombs of the Black Vatican.”  Settling into the instrumentation and the guitar flourishes of Zakk Wylde, I start to read my book.  As the next song rolls up, I immediately lose all focus on my book and laugh out loud in the plane because the follow-up song is “Clouds” by Zach Sobiech.  There are likely no other two songs in my music library as opposite in style, music, and message than these.  Zakk Wylde sings to me of empty promises and destruction of trust, while Sobiech’s song is that of celebrating love and to keep living life to the fullest after the loss of a loved one; in this case, himself.  It is a hopeful song he wrote for his girlfriend as he faced a terminal cancer at age 18.

In a greater view of my own life, these two selections are so pointedly symbolic of the stark dichotomy playing throughout my brain and body in every aspect I face daily.  I have a constant tug to choose one option or another in my words, my actions, my emotions, and even my thoughts. It is a battle I do not always win or choose the best side.
Side Note:  Only now today did I realize that both songs are from a variation of a Zakk/Zach.  Weird.

We Need To Talk

No, this is not looking back at that time when your ex-girlfriend said this moments before she crushed your soul.

I want to talk about another epidemic that borders on psychopathy.  I am talking about people who drink Diet Coke.  They are insatiable, persistent, and possibly clinically insane.

As a restaurant server, there are plenty of stereotypes that exist for one reason or another, but this is one that has always befuddled me.  It is almost as if the chemicals in Diet Coke change a person’s brain function.  Here is a typical interaction:

Me: (Addressing the table and turning to seat 1…) Hi, my name is Mi—
Seat 3: Diet Coke!
Me: Alright. (as I type the drink in on my tablet…  *btw, we fancy at our restaurant* )  My name is Michael.  Would anyone else like something to drink?
 Seats 1,2,4: Coffee, water, Coffee AND water, etc.
Me: Great!  (tells daily specials before I leave.)
**I go make the drinks and return to the table.  Drinks meet the appropriate guests and straws are placed on table.  I turn to address Seat 1 to ask about their food order—
Seat 3: (Apparently trying to suck the ice cubes through the straw…) Can I get some more Diet Coke? (Rattles empty glass in the air at me.)
Me: (Trying to suppress the urge to punch them violently in the throat because I have not even left the table yet.) Yes, of course.
**I get the food orders for Seats 1-2.  Turn to Seat 3, shoving down the impending personal rage for what I know is about to happen.
Me: And for you?
Seat 3: Oh, let me see…I’m just not sure.  There’s just so much on the menu!  (10 seconds of staring uncomfortably at the guest pass. Slowly.) Can you skip me and get the next person?
**Gets Seat 4 order in 0.3 seconds because they are a normal human who understands how restaurants work.  Returns to Seat 3.
Me: (way too chipper and smiling) Made any decisions yet? (knowing full well this psychopath will not have a clue about food for 5 more minutes because their brain is too low on vitamin DC, having gone longer than 30 seconds without a fix.)
Seat 3: I’m just not sure.  Can you go get me some more Diet Coke and I’ll try to have an answer by the time you get back?
Me: (Internally: NOOOO, YOU CRACKHEAD!  THAT IS NOT HOW THIS WORKS!!!) Yes, of course I can.
**Meanwhile, I two more tables have arrived in my section and they all deserve the proper attention expected for our guests, but I am now held hostage in server limbo due to this crazy person.  So, another small layer of stress is building within me because now I have to rush this refill of crack soda for this person and still get a food order, all while my other two unsuspecting tables perceive that they are now waiting on me.  It is the restaurant equivalent of someone blocking both lanes of traffic while trying to make a left turn at a busy intersection that is clearly marked “No Left Turn.”

Now, there are plenty of things that happen in the restaurant environment that may annoy most people, but I have done this for a long time and most of those things are lost on me now.  The restaurant industry is definitely not for everyone.  I have seen hundreds of servers come and go for one reason or another.  After all these years, the Diet Coke drinker, however, is a constant thing that seems to eat at my soul whenever it happens.  It is odd.  You immediately know that you will refill that empty, rattling glass at least fifteen times in the next twenty minutes while the coffee drinking friends at the table, who are more commonly considered the caffeine addicts in society, may need two or three refills for the duration of the meal, and that will slow down every other guest interaction and server responsibility you may have for the next hour.  The only answer is to bring a new Diet Coke any time you are returning to anywhere near that table to pre-empt the crazy sitting there.

I know it may seem small, and yes, it is part of the job.  It is a phenomenon that I cannot explain and it perplexes me every time it happens.  I simply ask that if you see your friends do this, help them seek treatment or keep them at arm’s length in your life because they may be hiding bodies under their houses or in their back yards

IPSD 2018

IPSD: International Pipe Smoking Day is every year on February 20th.  While I celebrated late that evening, I am a week late in writing this post.  I wanted to indulge earlier in the day, but life got in the way.  There were responsibilities which needed my attention.

Pipes and pipe tobaccos are a hobby that I acquired my first year of being in the Army.  That was, shockingly, fifteen years ago now.  Some buddies in my unit at Ft. Bragg, NC wanted to go to the cigar bar every once in a while for drinks and smokes.  At that point in my life I had only ever smoked a few cigars in my life and nothing else, not even a single cigarette.  I knew that I did not mind cigars, but I also did not particularly care for them as a pleasure either.  The largest dislike was the ashtray taste in my mouth the next morning.  So, while wandering the local mall in Fayetteville, I stumbled into a store called The Tinder Box.  It’s a franchised chain found across the country filled with tobacco goods and knick-knacks like carved chess boards and inlaid wooden boxes.

That was when my buddy and I decided that we each needed to buy a pipe and see if that would bridge the gap for our group of friends at Happy Hour.  It did; maybe a little too well.  I quickly found enjoyment in discovering the different shapes, textures and materials of tobacco pipes as well as the seemingly thousands of types of tobacco.  It stayed a fairly small hobby in my life for about the next five years as my time in service came to a close.  Both of my deployments to Iraq had a trusty pipe or two along for the ride.  It is something I enjoyed sparingly and at odd times of inspiration.  Many times it could be a month or two before the light bulb blinked on and my brain said, “Oh yeah! I should smoke a pipe today.”

Now, today, fifteen years later, That bulb flickers on a little more often, but still sparingly compared to the other people I have met in the community.  About six or seven years ago I realized that I had gone the entire summer, which is much longer in Mississippi, without visiting my box of pipe tobaccos.  I ended up throwing out a handful of really dry and stale tobaccos then, for good measure, cleaned out the few pipes I had.  To scratch the itch, I went to a local strip mall tobacco shop next to the Winn-Dixie grocery store and purchased a small amount of some cheaper tobacco.  That was a passable answer for my immediate dilemma, but it did not satisfy the need or urge.

Now, in 2018, I have been about four years in pipe hobby high gear.  I have purchased a handful of new and different styles of pipes.  I currently have no fewer than twelve different types of tobacco open, but properly stored in jars with labels.  I have also started a tobacco cellar in a sealed storage container with a humidity pack inside to maintain the stash for years to come.  When good sales happen, I grab a couple of brands I enjoy and throw them in there.  Some tobaccos are actually made to be aged as long as ten to fifteen years for an optimal flavor.  My enjoyment of wines and whiskeys made it very easy to understand that concept and the need for proper storage solutions.  I even purchased a good humidor and stocked it with good cigars for the times I get the weird urge or if friends are over.  I have still never smoked a cigarette, though.

One of the most unexpected parts of this endeavor is the pipe smoking community.  Many people may read that sentence and chuckle or think it’s weird.  Well, it is, but it is just as weird as any other group of enthusiasts I have come across in my time wandering this planet.  Here in New Orleans I have discovered a small Pipe Club that has been extremely welcoming group of people who are present simply for the shared enjoyment of all of the aspects I listed above.  The very first meeting I attended was a group of around twenty people of all types with every type of pipe imaginable to fit every personality.  There were at least as many different tobaccos on the tables, all open for anyone present to try.  One blend was a tobacco that is absolutely sold out in the United States, yet it was being passed around and smoked like anyone could buy it tomorrow.  Even the whiskey people are not that open to sharing their stash

Now, there is a 47-year-old tobacco store in Jackson, MS called The Country Squire.  It is fairly well-known in the community across the country.  I have always known about it from growing up in the area, but I never knew of its true popularity.  I have since been there quite a few times in the past five years.  In a twist, the New Orleans Pipe Club had just recently scheduled a trip to Jackson for that very reason.  It made me laugh at how small this world is.  Unfortunately, I was already engaged on the day of the trip, or I would have gladly attended the group fun.  It is probably better for my wallet, though, because almost every third time I enter that little building in Jackson, I end up with a new pipe or a handful of their wonderful tobaccos to smoke or store away.

So, fifteen years on, the pipe has become something fairly integrated into my life, but not an everyday need or desire.  My friends do not look at me quite as funny when I have one lit, but I still get some jibes and barbs when the right situations arise.  That is one of the hallmarks of the greatest of friends: they will gladly accept you for being you, but they will assuredly make fun of you for being you at the same time.  I will take it.  I have gained so many moments of welcome contemplation and learning while carefully packing the bowls with the tobaccos or while quietly puffing away during a brainstorming session.  It is simply a hobby I have acquired and fostered through the years.  I would not give up that life education for anything.


Get a Ray In Your Life

A lot can be said about good friendships.  There are just some people in this world who we meet and they stick with us.  Real friends have helped each other, fought each other, disagreed with each other, and stood by each other through myriad situations.  These friendships can happen in a week or over the past 30 years.  Some friends come into, and stay in, your life due to specific shared situations.  Many times you can be separated from your friends for weeks, months, or years, yet the next time you see them it is like hardly a moment has passed.

I have watched my father, who is a Colorado native, live in Mississippi away from his friends and immediate family my entire life.  I have also spent these 40 years watching him foster one of the most amazing friendships of which I know.  The man in the picture above is my father’s best friend, Ray.  I even share his name as my middle name.  They have known each other since high school.  They have lived through decades of joys and tragedies together.  They call each other to check in at random intervals, often to make a joke at the other’s expense.  In a financially questionable deal, they have also had a longstanding continuous bet involving the Denver Broncos season record vs. the New Orleans Saints season record.  That bet alone has created many laughs, empty wallets, and a host of jokes between the two during the seasons through the years.  I have made some very good friends through the years, but theirs has always been my gold standard.

Just yesterday I was at work and feeling a little down.  Not depressed, but unsettled with my day as it had unfolded to that point.  I managed to get off work in time to watch the 2nd half of the New Orleans Saints game with a group of my friends, of which I have known between this past year and all the way to over 30 years.  There was an immediate release of my inner funk.  I felt a catharsis and serenity while living in the moment with these people as we watched our football team try to win the game.  It made me cherish that time even more because I realized that I have the opportunity to see my friends on a fairly regular basis should I so choose.  My father and Ray have not had that opportunity.

There is not really a closing point to this because all of it is still happening.  So go find the people in your life and keep making good, deep friendships.  Play a little joke on your friends.  Buy them a 6-pack of their favorite beer for no reason, but only give them 5 because you drank one.  Foster that friendship with someone who knows you so well that they can get under your skin, in a good way, from 6 states away.  Find yourself a Ray.

The Reasons I Can’t Sleep In On My Day Off

As I grow older, I appreciate a good night’s rest. This is a fairly great character development for me. As a teenager or in college, I would gladly stay up until all hours of the night and sleep until noon or later if possible. I have always been a night owl by nature. Now that I am a little older and I have a job where I work mornings, it means a little more to me when the possibility of sleeping in beyond 6:00 a.m. occurs.

The problem is that never happens anymore. I have three furry children whose group mission in life is to see how early and how often they can wake me. I have two cats and one dog. They all have their own style and motives to accomplish this feat. In my best Nick Kroll (The League) voice, “COLLUSION!”

The youngest cat, Tarball, is 3 years old and 16lbs. He is the catalyst for the whole equation.  He usually starts the procedure somewhere between 4:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. by repeatedly, rhythmically, and methodically, pawing at every door, cabinet, wall, or even plastic storage box that he can find. Now that may not sound like much, but it is the feline equivalent of Chinese water torture. He is persistent. It will continue for hours if unchecked. Yelling, a spray bottle, thrown pillows, none of these things matter in his world. I have deduced through much frustration, trial, and error, that he wants one or more of these four things:

  • More food
  • Running water
  • New/clean cat litter
  • To annoy me for no reason

So, after hoping today will be the day he shows mercy, I usually get out of my warm bed and attempt to deduce which of the needs must be filled. Once satiated, he often crawls onto the bed and goes to sleep again.  Traditionally, his resting area is between my knees.  It is amazing how effectively 16lbs of cat can pin the lower half of your body to the bed.

That is when the oldest of the three, Oscar, also a cat, goes to work.  He has a perpetual grumpiness about his visage, but he is a snuggler at the core.  As I lie back down to squeeze more sleep into my body, that is when he walks across the pillows and my face to curl up against me in my right armpit.  Always the right armpit.  Now, after I get over the assault to my face, this behavior is quite endearing and I don’t mind it one bit, except for the fact that I now have another 16lbs of cat pinning down the right half of my torso beneath the covers.  But, I want to return to sleep, so it is alright.  This cat, however, is sometimes prone to waking from a dead sleep and launching himself, with surprising speed that belies his size, to anywhere except right where he was resting.  That is when I wake up again because surely armageddon is coming via a horde of robot ninjas.  Nope.  It is only the crazed cat dreams.

Grunt, the 70lb dog, is the final horseman of the Day Off Apocalypse.  He generally rests at the foot of the bed or on the neighboring pillow through the feline insanity, sometimes getting annoyed and retreating to the living room couch for his own rest.  Rest that he carefully saves up then to sit by the front door or the side of my bed at around 6 a.m. letting out a steadily paced barrage of slow groans or grunts until I find a way to disengage from 32lbs of cat and stumble my way to the front door.  I understand he has been pent up in the house all night and may need to use the yard.  That is my responsibility as his person.  It is only fair because he neither has opposable thumbs nor an understanding of doorknobs and deadbolts.  Some days, though, he won’t go outside when I open that door.  He looks out, looks up at me, then turns around and saunters off into the bedroom to resume his place on the spare pillow next to mine.

That is when I walk back into the bedroom to find these furry three strewn in their various positions across the queen-sized bed.  They may look like they are now settled, but I know the truth.  They are reloading.