conversations with char, part 4

me: How are you?

char: Terrible. I can’t get the slot machine to work on my phone.

me: We can’t come in your room, so you may be stuck for a while.

char: $@&!!!*&^^!!

me: We can gamble the old-fashioned way. I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10. What is it?

char: 7

me: Oh, close. It was 6. You owe me a dollar.

char: Yeah, right.

me: We’re watching for your $600 check from the government, although it’s now a $599 check from the government.

char: Click.

I think she might be feeling better. I know I am. I won a dollar.

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things i wish i had said, part 90

“It is a feeling that every copy editor knows. You bolt upright out of a deep sleep at 3 a.m., eyes wide open, and you say to yourself, Did I misspell ‘Kyrgyzstan’ last night? And nine times out of 10, you can go back to sleep comfortably knowing … that you did.”

— David Vescey, New York Times copy editor

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grab your purple crayon

“Magic beans, baby. Magic beans.”
— the prophet barack obama


A blank running log. A road stretching out with no end in sight.  Hope on the horizon.

You ponder making a  New Year’s Resolution. Sure, you never came anywhere close to keeping the past 63. But maybe This Year Will Be Different.

What is it about January 1 that makes us evaluate our lives, reassess things, pretend we can change? An exercise in futility is still exercise, I suppose.

You consider the possibilities as the day goes by. Through the 3 miles on the canal, trudging along at chemo pace. While nervously trying to get your friend’s attention through the outside window at the rehab center as she sleeps. At least you hope she’s sleeping. She hasn’t touched her pie, but the joint is locked down because of COVID, so you can’t steal it. You add it to your mental checklist of reasons you hated 2020.

The hours march by too quickly. And then, the day is almost over, the chance for a clean slate for a new year slipping past. What to do? Running resolutions are a pipe dream. Be a better person? That seems like a lot of work.

But then, Mo wants to go see the stars. So you drive out on US 87 to a little spot an hour out of town.

As you step out of the car in the tiny area made for stargazers and crack deals, you barely contain a gasp. The stellar panorama goes on forever. So many stars. The Boscoe Bob, the Trenchcoat, the Flamingo Frenzy. Yes, you dropped out of Boy Scouts before learning the proper names of the constellations. Whatever. The sky is glorious nonetheless.

You stand in the icy darkness in your shorts and T-shirt, braving the bone-chilling 58 degree weather. Lordy, you hate chilly bones.

And you realize.

It’s not about a new year. It’s about somewhere between an eternity and a day.

You can’t do much in a year. The universe won’t notice it at all, a nanosecond on the cosmic stopwatch. But a day? A day is something you can work with.

So you make your resolution. You will celebrate the coming day. Walk or run or sashay as best as the running gods will allow. Put out a few newspapers, pretending “Florida” is a real place. Eat pie. Take care of your friends, and know they will take care of you. Life is a team sport. Take nothing for granted.

Run the mile you’re in, the old saying goes. Maybe that goes for life as well. Dancing in our heads, the prophet Ani said. It’s all about dancing in our heads.

Make tomorrow the best day you can. Don’t look too far past that. Except maybe for magic beans. Never turn down a magic bean. Or pie.

Celebrate life. One day at a time. Best resolution ever. 

Bud don’t forget about the pie.


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dreams, part 7

“Life is strange, isn’t it?”
— Ann Dunham

“You must try the shad!”

I appear to be in a market that sells fish in old England, somewhere between Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” and Boris Johnson’s “Brexit Blues.”

I’m trying to buy haddock. In the dream, I don’t think I had ever tasted haddock (in real life, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted “fish”), but I’m concerned with buying something that provides a proper pun.

I reason that haddock will allow me to allude to my favorite Aerosmith album from my college days, “Toys in the Attic.” I can serve a meal with the Hawaiian staple and bill it as “Pois and the Haddock.” More people should buy their seafood based on this premise.

The fish seller is undeterred. “Shad” she insists. “Buy the shad.”

I find myself unable to come up with a single pun for it. Shad, but true. So I decline, and ask for a pound of haddock.

As I’m checking out, the woman is whispering something to the guy ringing me up. Yes, they ring up during this particular time in England. He shrugs, takes my money and sends me on my way.

When I get home, I unwrap my bounty. Which turns out to be shad. And then I realize. The song will be the timeless Huffamoose classic, “We’ve Been Shad Again.” I realize I have no idea how to cook fish, or any particular interest in eating it. I wander off to listen to Huffamoose. Yes, they have iTunes in ancient England.

And then I wake up.

Someone from the neurology team called last night. Apparently, we’re on the list just behind her only nephew, who lives 1,937.8 miles from here, give or take a mile for roadwork, so we’re in the hot seat for making decisions.

It sounds like a long road ahead. And they don’t think she’ll be able to drive anymore, making the road even longer. Maybe a stroke, seizures, something going on in her brain but they’re not sure what. The neurology person talked about rehab and independence and options. Fish never came up.

She’s the world’s most fiercely independent woman, and I feel that slipping away. Things will never be the same. But maybe that’s OK.

As Obama’s mom stared cancer down, he tried to get her to move from Hawaii to Chicago. She replied simply: “I’d rather be someplace familiar and warm.”

Maybe that’s all we can do at this point. She moved from the Midwest after her radio and TV career ended, smitten with a land that was warm. And now it’s familiar.

Life is all about routines. Cheerios for breakfast, the morning crossword puzzle, chicken and vegetables for lunch (DON’T BUY THE VEGETABLES WITH CREAM SAUCE, YOU MORON), the rest of the paper early afternoon followed by a mystery novel, a happy hour martini and a chaser of Maddow. She is adamant that she doesn’t want to give it up.

I remember for the millionth time why I never became an adult. It’s hard.

I suspect she will have to give up some things she holds dear, her beloved minivan being the first in a series of hard decisions. Still, John Cleese and Graham Chapman said it best in Holy Grail: “I’m not dead yet.” Of course, they also said ‘RUN AWAY” when the bunny showed up, so they may not be the best source material for this dilemma.

After a half hour or so talking with the neurology person, we have a plan. We just don’t know what it is yet. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Maybe that’s what the dream was trying to tell me. Life isn’t SUPPOSED to make sense. Just wrap it up and deal with what you have when you get home. There’s always a catch.

Pois in the haddock, indeed.

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knock knock. who’s there. orange. orange who?

“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”
— the prophet chrysippus

char: I can’t find the words.

me: Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll turn up somewhere.

She can’t seem to talk. She’s confused. She knows where she is, but she’s not happy about it.

She’s on the phone with me while a nurse is trying to talk with her. “We’re just trying to help you,” the nurse says. “I DON’T WANT TO BE HELPED!” Char exclaims.

It’s impossible to figure out what’s going on. The hospital doesn’t allow visitors in the COVID era. We’re not relatives, so we have no access to medical information. We just call, hoping she’ll answer. She can’t much describe what’s going on. We’re guessing maybe a stroke, or perhaps it’s just too hard to bear the last days of the current administration when your middle finger doesn’t work.

The nurse wants to know who I am. I’m not sure how to answer. Former neighbor? Surrogate son? Co-conspirator? She’s been around so long that she’s a part of our lives, a relationship that needs no label. But that doesn’t fit into the hospital vernacular.

Char comes to the rescue. “He’s my friend,” she says.

I hang up so she can yell at the nurse some more. I worry, because that’s all I can do. I hope she’ll be OK. It’s not often you find someone who’ll go to the track with you and a pumpkin while wearing a banana costume and a race bib. No. 1 indeed. I want to stay around for a long time.

Keep looking for those words, Char. You’ll find them.

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