american jesus

He’s on the course again today.  Floppy hat, little dog, and the song. Always the song.

I have no idea what it is. Seems like some sort of Buddhist chant. He sings it at the top of his lungs as he and the little chihuahua in the jaunty sweater make their rounds.  I google Buddhist Daily Chanting to get an idea of what the song prayers are like.

Arahung summa sumbuddho pakava

I am running to a playlist of songs with 182 beats per minute. I find myself here because I was trying to listen to the impeachment hearings before deciding that maybe I don’t want to kill myself today and therefore should stop. I don’t particularly like the 182 bpm songs. They are loud and bossy and not at all Buddhist. But one must never question the religion that is Jack Daniels.

I don’t wanna know
I don’t wanna know
I don’t wanna know
I don’t wanna know

The man and his dog walk here almost every day. Their rounds must coincide with mine. He seems so relaxed, so at peace, so disconnected from the craziness.

Buddhang Pakawuntung abhivatemi
Savakkatho Pakavata tummo

A turtle eyes me on the back turn. I give him the Stink Eye. Finally someone I can beat. He yawns, dives into the water and takes off. Try running with this weight on your back, he says. I’m no hare. An old couple on three-wheel recumbents pass me. The Fast Woman sails by on her daily out-and-back. The 182 parade marches onward.

Freida, can’t you spare me a dime?
I got to give myself one more chance
To ring the band that I know I’m in

I pass the man and his dog  again. They are walking along the edge of the pond. He sings, unaware of the attention. There is peace.

Tummung na-mussami
Supatipanno pakavato savaka sung ko

I’m running too hard, but I read recently that you have a better chance to beat dementia by going super-aerobic. What better reason for intervals? So I persevere. The run is stressful. There is no peace.

I feel sorry for the earth’s population
‘Cause so few live in the U.S.A.
At least the foreigners can copy our morality
They can visit but they cannot stay

I finish off my futile Gumbo 5K. As I climb into the car, NPR is broadcasting the impeachment hearing. I can hear him in the distance, still singing.

Sunkung namami
Namo tassa bhagavto arahato samma sambhudssa

I’m doing this running thing all wrong.

The Perfectly Self enlightened one and blessed one, who has extinguished all suffering.
I bow down before the Awakened, Blessed One
The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One
I pay homage to the Dhamma
The Sangka of disciples who have practiced well
I bow low before the Sangha
Honor to Him, the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the fully Enlightened

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Nov 10, 1969
Dear Cheri,

How are you? Hope everything is fine. I haven’t written for a few days, thought I better write you. We’re now at FSB Deb. It’s about 10 miles north of Marge. The road beyond here (North) hasn’t been used much for about two years. So, we’re waiting for the line troops to get it secure before we move any farther north. Not much new, otherwise. It’s the same as at Marge, except we start all over again filling sandbags. Once we get everything sandbagged, we’ll move on.

I jumped off my track the other day and sprained my ankle. I didn’t worry about it at the time. About a day later I took a shower and when I went to put my boots back on, I couldn’t get the left one on. I went to the Doc and he wrapped it and told me to stay in bed for a day. So, I got today off. It’s ok now.

Today some CIDG’s (Civilian Irregular Defense Groups) made contact. They called F100 fighters in with napalm. I sat here and watched them. It was pretty cool. I’d give anything to be a fighter pilot.

Hope all is well at home. Be good. I am fine.  Will write when I’m more ambitious.



Nov. 11, 2019
Dear Dave,

I’ve been reading the letters you’re posting from 50 years ago. I find it to be the perfect description of life in a war zone. One minute a guy is being cut in half by a helicopter, the next you’re having camera problems. Such an insane time. I have no idea how you did it.

Today is Veterans Day, a day for people to get in front of me at the sub shop because they have the day off; a day for picnics and relaxation. This is the first Veterans Day in a long time that I actually thought about veterans.

I was running today, thinking about you. Thinking about how you would go from guarding the coke machine in camp to driving into what must have been terrifying countryside. Such an emotional roller coaster, never knowing what the next day would bring, if you would live or die. It’s so easy for someone like me, who has never experienced anything scarier than my wife waking up and finding we’re out of coffee, to forget.

I know the war will never be over for you. You will always be fighting health issues and nightmares and the memories of an uncertain time in our history.

I just wanted, on Veterans Day 2019, to say thanks for your sacrifice 50 years ago. Heroes are where you find them. Sometimes amid a pile of sandbags in a hostile country. Sometimes on a farm with a view of Mount Rainier.

Hope all is well at home.



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mary and me

running twice a day isn’t that hard when you only run 2 and 1 miles. i am a genius.

i know what you’re saying. gee, mr. pants. 3 miles a day. 13 minute pace. ZERO followers. you are quite the Internet Influencer. surely you must have an opinion on the mary cain thing.

and i do. which is this. i don’t know.

i do know that many years ago, i ran my best when i looked like a skeleton. there was a saying that if people were worried about you, you were getting close to racing weight.

in a sport where every second counts, every pound does as well. i realize it’s complicated, that your health begins to decline. but racing is all about trying to walk on that ledge between being your best and falling off the edge. seems like you sign up for that risk when you aim to become a world-class runner. everything else has to take a back seat if you’re going to be the best in the world.

but for a teenager to become suicidal from it and to begin hurting herself, and then for the people in charge of her to refuse to help? that’s not sports. that’s a total loss of compassion, a lack of basic morality.

i’m glad she appears to have come out on the other side. i’m glad her parents were there for her. i’m glad the bastards behind this are losing their jobs.

mostly i’m glad that countless girls will see her video. they’ll have a role model for running and balance and bravery.

running is just running. it should be fun. it shouldn’t kill you.

i spend my mile thinking about a young woman who is my new hero. success is survival, the prophet murphey once said. indeed.

thanks, mary. good luck in the next chapter.


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“it’s okay to be white,” says the sign taped to the fence outside the track.

i’m not sure why it bothers me so much. but i think the answer lies on the track.

it’s a beautiful day, sunny and 70 degrees. white? it’s more like a rainbow.

two hispanic women in their 30s are walking in lane 3. an old white guy, maybe in his 80s, is sprinting on lane 1. the Beefcake Boys are doing shot put drills. an old guy of uncertain ethnicity and a younger woman are flinging the hammer. a black guy in dreadlocks is getting a massage from a young asian man off the front straight.

and i’m the old white guy in lane 9.

that’s the thing about the track. age, race, gender, speed, talent — it doesn’t matter. you do your best, and cheer as others do theirs. the world should be more like the track.

it’s okay to be white.

it’s not okay to be racist.


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brothers, part 24

Halloween is the saddest holiday.

Rick and I had a tradition. Every Halloween, we would sing a song. OK, it was usually May or July or whenever I finally made it down for Christmas or Thanksgiving or some random weekend. But still. Tradition.

It was a Halloween song from our childhood, one that lingered like candy corn in the bottom of the bag. For some reason, I could only remember the chorus.

“Halloween’s the night to dress up like a sight to give your friends a fright LOOK OUT it’s Halloween!” But I had no idea how the verse went.

And that’s where Rick came in. He had an encyclopedic memory, if encyclopedic is a word, and it might be. At least through the H’s, which luckily is where Halloween landed. He would sing the verse in that silly Rick sing-song tone. Then I would sing the chorus. And we would both sing the end:  LOOK OUT LOOK OUT it’s Halloween. We would swap look outs back and forth and laugh ourselves silly. We were always silly.

That went on for 70 years ago, which is a bit of a miracle given that he’s only 65. Journalists’ lives are measured in dog years. But it was my favorite holiday.

And now it’s the saddest. I might have mentioned that.

They give you a lot of information when you pick up the dementia handbook. How he’ll start to change. Things will disappear. He’ll lose the ability to cheat at Scrabble and totally punk you at crocinole. What they DON’T tell you is that you’ll lose the Halloween song forever. Probably because it’s just too damn painful to know.

I won’t see him at Halloween this year. But when I do next month, I’ll break out the song. Who knows? Maybe that will be the one thing he remembers. Christmas miracles happen. I saw it in a Hallmark movie.

And if not, that’s OK. We still have the disembodied Little Ricky ventriloquist dummy head. Some Halloween traditions never end. Unless June sent Little Ricky to the farm in Ballinger.

If so, it will be the saddest holiday.

LOOK OUT! It’s Halloween.

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brothers, part 23

“I’m glad you’re here!”

I was caught off guard as i walked back into the house after phoning Mo from the porch. He had been eating breakfast, saw me through the window, and came walking around to the door.

I’m glad I’m here, too, I replied.

it’s the end of another week of hanging out with my brother. We finished off the ice cream by the second day. We’ve walked our loop enough times that we could do it with our eyes shut. Which explains how I led him into heavy traffic this afternoon. F-150s are big up close. We only set the kitchen on fire once, and made it the entire week with almost no dogs lost. What more could you ask for?

Brother the younger and his lovely bride are here, ready to help us out when the wheels fall off. June, of course, is 24-7, and Mo is just a 911 call away. We make a good team.

It’s funny. Rick doesn’t say much these days. I’ve been reading dementia books nonstop trying to figure things out. The most optimistic solution I’ve found is that it’s just a different reality. Carlos Castaneda and Haruki Murakami wrote of different planes that we can’t see. Maybe that’s what this is all about. I can hope.

And then there are those moments of clarity. We’re driving through the neighborhood and we come across an old decrepit house with an overgrown lawn. “That house is scary,” he says. Indeed.

And he’s sitting in his chair when June walks in. He jumps up, hugs her and says “I love you.” My heart melts.

June told me a while ago that there is joy amid the sadness. Maybe I’m starting to understand. Rick and I had never spent enough time together, the result of busy lives and too much distance and the “there will be time for that later” syndrome. Now, I see him all the time. That same smile, an occasional twinkle, still taking the last of the Hershey bars.

While out on our evening walk, we were greeted by the president of the Smith Boys Walking Club. We talked for a minute in the middle of the road (did i mention that this wasn’t our safest hike?) As we were saying goodbye, she said “you’re lucky to have him as a brother.” In unison, we replied, “yes, I am.”

We still have a bunch of Sonic milkshakes down the road. Maybe next time he won’t drink mine. And if he does, that’s OK. No, dammit, it’s not. Stay away from my shake. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Where do we go from here? I’m not really sure. Probably Sonic. The best adventures are the ones where you don’t know how they will end.

“I’m glad you’re here.” I will cling to those four words forever.

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things i wish i had said, part 82

“Please understand, I’m still in here.”

— Richard Taylor, dementia advocate

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