A Quarrel, Between the Present and the Past

The woman at the table beside me is fairly old. I'd peg her for mid to late eighties, though in the the new millennium, one can hardly tell. Some people seem elderly at sixty-five and some are vital and young as they approach a century. I only guess her age thus because she's sitting with a sixty-something woman with all the trappings of an aging baby boomer who keeps calling her 'Mom.'*

The younger woman is sensibly dressed in a style quite fashionable and appropriate to her age. She has a short-chopped hairstyle that is business-presentable but will morph into old-lady-puff inside of a decade. She has all the speech patterns, mannerisms, posture and bearings of level-headedness and passing authority. It's easy to imagine her as a department administrator, a case supervisor or an assistant principal; she's someone's boss, but no one important. She's been nursing the same glass of white wine for more than an hour now.

The mother, though, is something else entirely. Gruff in manner, abrupt in mannerism, she sports a beaten up mens' work shirt, loudly-colored sneakers and she curses constantly. She's dyed her hair dark and wears it long despite her obvious sheaves of years. She entered with a banjo slung over her shoulder and, from hearing her talk, she's in a bluegrass band and has been for most of her life. She's something of a rascal and it's hard to imagine her as anything sensible at all. She's finished four Amstels since arriving.

Though with affection, the younger woman treats her mother with some obvious distance and more than a little impatience as if she were senile, which she clearly is not, or perhaps an unruly child that has chosen to behave for an afternoon. The mother chafes at her daughters admonition. They see eye to eye on nothing at all and are used to this immutability.

I am forced to wonder how one such woman could produce another that is so clearly different. Perhaps the daughter was raised by her father or by her grandparents. Maybe being straight-laced and professionally sensible is a daughter's way of rebelling against a libertine mother. She could be adopted.

I have heard that we are all doomed to become our parents but, in this case at least, that is not the case.

*This particular utterance, "mom," though I've been hearing it all my life, has always sounded a bit awkward to me. Having spend my earliest years in England, I call my mother "Mum," despite having lost all the other apprehensions of an English accent. My American relatives never called my maternal grandmother, the Matriarch of that side of the family, 'mom' either. She was always "Ma" to her four children. To me, "mom" is an alien word spoken by others to others.


And Some Days...

...you find yourself on an unswept porch wondering how many ducks the devil would take into a bar. You'd slept into the afternoon, waking just in time to see the dapple light of decaying afternoon in autumn. You take a long walk only to find that you're destination won't see you until Monday and you resolutely decide not to worry about winter peering ominously at you from the other side of November. For just one moment, you sip tea and wonder if it might all turn out okay and then wonder why these moments seem to happen less and less as each year goes by.


I Would Walk Five Hundred More

I wrote this a few years ago after an accident that nearly cost me my leg but never posted it. I guess it's time.

"Can I help you?" I keep getting asked.

Not at a store or in a restaurant or some other establishment where "Can I help you?" indicates a culturally sanctioned business arrangement. No, people keep saying this to me because I look like I actually require assistance.

I banged up my leg a week or so ago. It's all my own fault and I had it coming. I'll heal up pretty well, save for a scar, in another week or so. In the meantime, my knee is badly swollen, making walking awkward and a bit uncomfortable. This being the case I am temporarily using a cane and ambulating with an inelegant gait. This has led a number of people, mostly strangers but even a few friends, to exercise their limited samaritanism and offer to help me move about, again and again and again.

It's not that I don't appreciate the good will of those around me. I do, in fact, appreciate it very much. I'm privileged to have so many people about me on a daily basis that are willing to concern and even inconvenience themselves on my behalf. On the other hand, I'm injured, not crippled. I need to move about under my own power, without assistance, because I should be the one to deal with my own inadequacies and I am the one who should deal with the consequences of my own actions.

The big issue, really, is one of pride. Permanently injured or not, to suggest that one is not capable, as offering help does, bruises the ego. It is important, to me at least, that everyone understand that I am not less of a person because I walk with a different stride or because I need to pace in a circle every so often to keep my knee from stiffening. It is vitally important that I prove to others and to myself that my injury, however temporary, can't keep me down. It hurts, just a bit, when someone insinuates, even unintentionally, that I may be less than who I was two weeks ago.

It's not that I'm ungrateful. It's that goodwill doesn't always take the form of charity. Sometimes goodwill needs to be faith in someone one's ability to overcome.


Half the Man I Used to Be

We have been hearing for years about how society's expectations of women are unreasonable. And, they are. Women should not be expected to be the nymphomaniacal, perfectly understanding, macho, waifs they are often portrayed as in normative popular media, both mother and lover and somehow perfectly not either. Women, as a group, have every right to disapprove of and rebel against stereotypes and I applaud every such effort.

I hear very little said, however, about the unfair expectations regarding men. While the female image of perfection is often unattainable and therefore unreasonable it is exactly that, an image. The female ideal of perfection is, in large part, a physical ideal.

The expectations of men, however, are pervasive and invasive, reaching into every aspect of a man's life. Moreover, these expectations, emotionally, intellectually, professionally, financially and spiritually are every bit as unreasonable as those expectations heaped upon women. A man is expected to be a feminist and respect the equality of women in all things but is still put upon to open doors and buy drinks. Men are supposed to chagrin the objectification of women, to be unconcerned with sex, but are still expected to be world class lovers. Men are expected to be sensitive and open to the needs of others, compassionate and understanding, but men are also expected to keep a level head and never need such understanding themselves. Men are to be sensitive and understanding while never complaining about being the butt of jokes about body hair, toilet seats and shaving scum.

A man is required to suppress violent and competitive urges but is still expected to defend his mate and his family and be professionally and financially successful. Additionally, a man is charged with the second hand success of his mate. A powerful male lawyer, for instance, can date or marry a waitress and her looks or her charm are enough justification. On the other hand, an equally as successful woman does not have leeway to do the reciprocal as the man's level of success reflects upon her. Women can take credit, by proxy, for the success of their husbands but men cannot do the same regarding the success of their wives.

Men are supposed to express their emotions, unless those emotions involve fear or uncertainty. Men are to be tender and gentle but are never to cry and are still the ones expected to go downstairs with a golf club in hand if there is a burglar in the house. Men are to be rugged but metro, carefree but dependable, brave but sensitive, uncompromising but understanding.

On top of all this, the male body image is changing and, much like that of women, is becoming unattainable. We are now constantly barraged by pictures of swollen, abs, slab-like pecks and chiseled jaw lines. At some point in the last decade someone decided that it was no longer enough for a man to simply be healthy but that he had to be some sort of Greg Louganis - Marky Mark - LL Cool J - Adonis but was disallowed from being a workout obsessed muscle man, since that's just too macho.

I am not trying to make this a man versus woman argument. I confess that women probably have a tougher time of it. The fact remains that the expectations of modern manhood are hardly effortless.

What I really want to know is why, in a world that constantly complains about its own superficiality, is my gender supposed to manifest such a plethora of irreconcilable traits, being provider, victor, father, friend, defender, confidant, brother, teacher, therapist and soldier when we still cannot be relied upon to put the toilet seat down?

At least that last one I have mastered. Damn I'm a badass.


The Queen of Hearts is Always Your Best Bet

The couple at the table beside me at the coffee shop is on a date, by all accounts of eavesdropping, a first or a second date. They're both decently good looking people, educated, articulate and they seem to be getting along famously.

But, oh-sweet-Jesus does everyone sound like such gits on a first date? How do two obviously intelligent people go on at such length without saying anything of substance? They've been at it for an hour. Granted, they now have an exhaustive list of statistics about each other: place of birth, alma mater, names of siblings, professional history, favorite foods, sports teams of choice but what they haven't done is actually get to know one another. It's like they're both on the worst job interview of their lives, every word guarded, every statement tailored not to offend, every laugh deliberate.

They haven't even tried to challenge one another. Neither of them have said anything that might risk the other's umbrage. They've not exposed the tiniest parts of their soft emotional underbelly, so to speak. And, when crafting a relationship, this is something a couple should do right out the gate. Sure, one risks being wounded, risks spreading one's secrets but is that not better than spending a dozen more dates or the balance of one's lifetime with someone unrealized as a stranger?

The worst part is, they're probably going to go out again and again and again. They'll probably end up married and buried without ever having unpacked each other's hearts.

I can't take it. I'm putting my headphones on now.

submit to reddit


You've Got to Have a Little Grace

At the coffee shop today the radio went from the Los Lobos' 1980's remake of "LaBamba" right into the Weird Al Yankovic classic, "Lasagna."

I was transported back to my childhood, to the two or three times each year when my mother and I would drive from Atlanta to Milwaukee. I was in junior high school and had a real penchant for grunge and heavy metal, before someone decided that alternative rock and hair rock were antithetical. My mother, an ardent fan of Carol Carpenter and Celine Dion, and I had the requisite disagreements about music on the sixteen hour drive.

Ultimately the only things were could agree on were Weird Al and Jim Croce. This music has, in the years since become, a point of bonding between us and remains the only non-seasonal songs to which my mother and I both know the words.

As it turned out, the barrista had a nearly identical childhood experience. Curious.

submit to reddit


The Imperfect Storm

They told me there was going to be a storm tonight. While I'll admit that there was a bit of thunder, if that's what passes for a storm these days, then I'm disappointed.

I've had a bit of a love affair with storms since I lived in the midwest as a child, since just after I was old enough to stop being afraid of them. I'm not interested in storms in any scientific sense. My fascination is purely aesthetic. I love the flash and the rumble, the trickle and the splash. I like to sit just outside the reach of the rain and simply experience the grumblings of he atmosphere. That's when I get my best thinking done.

The meteorological community promised me an "autumn storm." I got medium showers with thunder no louder than my stomach when I skip breakfast.

Somebody owes me some weather

submit to reddit


Autumn and Discontent

I never used to check the weather. It didn't seem to matter. The sky would do what it did and there wasn't much to to be said or done about it. Then I took up movies and skydiving, two things that are often dependent on the machinations of the atmosphere.

I checked today, as I've taken to doing, and saw that, come Monday, the high won't break seventy degrees.

Summer is finally over. The sweltering, sweaty, sticky, sizzling, scalding, steaming, oppressive, torrid, energy sapping, soul crushing, unrelentingly hot Georgia summer is finally coming to an end.

I despise heat. Summer revolts me. Say what you like about baseball, barbecues or bikini's, I'll take the long dark winter. I feel slow in summertime. When I exit an air conditioned building the heat and humidity slap me like a pillowcase full of fresh ash. They hang about me like venomous cloud. Clothes cling. Blacktop softens. The very air gets lazy and stupid even as it ripples and rises.

Soon, though, I can let my front door hang open. I can cross the street without acquiring a slick of perspiration. I can put the top down on my car without the shoulder belt drawing a diagonal of sweat across my chest. I can stand outdoors without getting feverish. I can be comfortable without machinery.

Long pants, long sleeves, jackets, heavy blankets, mulled cider and lower electricity bills. I can't wait.

submit to reddit