Buddy

buddy

Buddy
Buddy appeared as unexpectedly as he disappeared. A flash, a flame, and he was gone.

It was a steamy hot, summer day in northern Indiana, the backdrop to all of my childhood memories, when he came into our lives. Tar bubbled up from the road and squished underfoot. Birds sighed in their nests and old men carried around handkerchiefs to wipe off their sweaty foreheads and dripping noses. Everything felt hot, unless we were lounging in a tree or swimming in the “pool.”

The “pool” was actually a large, yellowed plastic container, originally used for farm chemicals with the top cut off. Nobody knew that chemicals absorbed into plastic at that time and if they did, it didn’t matter.

We were the invincible riff-raff. We ran around topless and barefoot, living on red popsicles and white bread baloney sandwiches and only coming in at dark.

Yes, we were those kids, living that life, if you happen to be wondering.

Brains, my brother, and I splashed around in the pool.  We zipped back and forth across the plastic container, dodging horseflies and pretending to be otters, when Brains popped up from the water. We heard the same things, yipping and barbed wire banging against a fence post, the rustling and shaking of something big and wild.

“Puney, let’s investigate.”

I nodded at Brains. Investigate was our favorite word for adventuring into an abandoned barn or open garage. We jumped over the brittle, plastic edge of the pool and shook off like little wet dogs.

Like the little wet dogs that we were, we trotted off after the noise. We made it across the hot road, popping tar bubbles with each step and discovered the source. A dog with shiny black fur and white teeth, whimpered for help. Its powerful back legs were twisted up in the barbed wire fence. The more the animal fought, the worse its predicament became.

“Brains, this is bad,” I said.

My little brother nodded, “Let’s get Mom.”

He took off for help, a first responder and action taker from an early age, and returned with a basket of garden tools.

“There’s no time to find Mom. We have to do this now.”

With a pair of wire clippers and four little hands, the dog was liberated from the fence.

“There you go, Buddy. You’re free.”

The dog looked at us with gratitude in its deep, brown eyes. And like that, Buddy was off leaving behind only a ruined barbed wire fence, but that was for the grownups to figure out.

Scammed

“I just got this in the mail and I won $5000.”

The man who stood in front of me was ecstatic. He wore his usual flannel pajama pants and dirty collared shirt, turned inside out.

“This is for a car dealership and you can’t drive,” I said.

I looked over the flyer more closely; it was addressed to Preferred Customer or Current Resident. The prize could only be claimed during the “event” described as a HUGE VEHICLE SELL-OFF in all capital letters.  The prize winnings were to go towards the purchase of a vehicle which would be a problem since he didn’t have any money for the purchase of bread and milk, let alone a vehicle, and again, he couldn’t drive.

“I already called the number and gave them my confirmation code. I’m definitely a winner they told me.  They are holding my prize downtown.  I just had to give them my address, name, birthdate…”

This was beyond smelling fishy.

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“You gave them all that information?” I asked in disbelief.

“I’ve never won anything this big before,” he said, ignoring me. “Let’s go pick it up on Monday.”

He handed me the flyer, “You can go research this but I’m keeping the ticket.”

Just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he held the ticket tightly in his fist, not about to give up his claim to something magnificent.

Check, please.

check

Dopeman, he’s a real guy who hangs out close to where I work.   Although I have never laid eyes on the man, I know as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West that he is real. There is a rich image of him in my mind, he wears a hoodie with baggie jeans and has tear drop tattoo on his face. Like the Boogie Man and Santa, my imagination has gone wild with who and what he is, with the difference being that he’s real; a man of flesh and blood with dreams and fears and a very real occupation.

My regulars have encountered Mr. Dopeman on trips to the gas station for smokes and snacks and report back to me of his movements. They know who he is and what he wants and for some reason, they continue to interact with Dopeman. I have done my best to teach them the basics of Stranger Danger. Just because you know his name and he seems friendly does not make him a friend; it’s a message that does not sink into their reality, but rather floats on top like oil on water.

He sounds like a warm fella, full of generosity and beneficence. Word has it that Dopeman offers his wares for free along with advice and networking for additional opportunities of all other sorts. Dopeman’s dark side is that there is a price of everything, whether it’s now or later.

Dopeman is just one moving part of the underground machine, invisible to those who don’t help to shift its gears or provide fuel, unknown to those who don’t provide repairs or new parts. Dangerous to all, regardless.

“So when Dopeman comes back and needs a favor, you better do it,” I was advised in the event that I ever made the mistake of accepting anything from him. Everything has a price, it’s the rule of the streets, I was told.

It makes sense but it’s not just a rule of the streets, it’s a rule of life.  You can’t get something for nothing.  If you do, you just haven’t gotten the check, yet.

Resolutions

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At the gym, a wizened little woman with white hair pounded the treadmill in front of me. She jogged while leafing through a magazine and leisurely looking around the facility. It was easy for her. The band continued to move. All she had to do was pick one foot up and then the other, like walking, but easier. There was no getting lost on a treadmill or being too far from the bathroom to make it in time.

The conveniences of modern society should amaze a woman of her age, surviving the dinosaurs and both world wars. Yet, it didn’t. She didn’t owe the world one single thing. As though reading my mind, she stepped off of the machine as nimbly as any gym-elf might and sized me up. Her mouth was smeared with bright red lipstick and her eyes glowed with blue eye shadow.

Fierce. Fearless. Ageless, sort of. She had my admiration. I lowered my eyes and gave her a nod of respect. Then, she was gone, escorted out by her caretaker or young lover like royalty. The woman was an enigma, a mystery, an unknown, like so many other sweaty, strange people at the gym.

A modern melting pot, bringing together all those who care about fitting into their jeans after the holidays, lowering their blood pressure, and can afford the monthly fee.

Long live the mystery of the people at the gym. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Fly Right

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When I was in kindergarten, my class took trips to the zoo and other places for young minds to learn. It was a privilege and opportunity for a country girl to get out and explore Indiana within a sixty mile radius or so. Sadly, the little brown stone building that I attended for my early education is closing this year with not enough hillbilly kids to keep it filled.

While I was there, I started to understand that there are two types of people in the world, those who follow the rules and those who do not. The realization came upon me like a slow sunrise, starting with a little light along the horizon quickly filling the sky with the big, hot ball of truth. Perhaps it burned hottest for me because it was not a fellow classmate or teacher illustrating this lesson, but rather my mother.

My class was preparing to go on a trip to some exciting town like Wabash or Andrews for an event which has now escaped my memory. We were each asked to bring in $5 and a signed permission slip. As a dutiful rule follower, I brought home the letter to parents and reiterated the request.

To my delight, there was no fight or complaint. My mother read the letter and signed with a smile.

“Let me get you a check,” she said still smiling. How could I have known her coy plan, as though a plan was needed for such a simple request?

She dug through her grungy purse and pulled out her worn checkbook. Through my childhood, I remember her thoughtfully staring at it, chewing on the end of a pencil, as she tried to balance the numbers. She never said anything about it, but I bet it never came out right. Somehow her motto, “Close enough,” ended up working out just about every time.

I carried the check and white permission slip in my little book-bag back to the school the next day. My teacher, an older woman with grey hair who wore skirts and loafers on the daily, collected the money and paperwork in the morning. She straightened the stack and retired behind her desk. We were left to a coloring project which I was in the middle of when she returned to my work area.

She squatted down, knees together and off to the side in the most lady-like-kindergarten-teacher-style and asked with the most serious face, “Is there something wrong with your mother?”

I set my crayon down and considered the question, “No, I don’t believe so.”

“She has been signing all of your paperwork with different names, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Jackie O, Barbara Streisand…. I have a list here of the alias’ she has used.” She waved a sticky note from the end of her finger to prove her point, like I had the capability to doubt a teacher at that time.

“We just need her to sign her real name or you can’t go on the trip to x,y,z place. It’s a liability for the school.”

Liability, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Streisand, this was all foreign, I shook my head. My teacher handed me a check, it was the same one that I had turned in that morning.

“And this, we can’t accept. It’s signed Dolly Parton.”

It was at that moment, I knew my mother needed fixing. She needed to be normal, to follow the rules; the easy, black and white ones as well as those living in the various shades of gray. Then another realization, the truth was out, it wasn’t at all what she needed, it was what I needed.

I needed her to fly right, something a bird with a broken wing can never do.

A rare day

sun 3It is a rare day that my office is quiet. I am looking around with a strange wonder at the silence. Soon, one person will come in followed by three more with paperwork to review, an emotional crisis from a jilted lover, problems with work, and so on. The list of needs is endless, as is their ability to surprise and delight, disappoint and frustrate.

Their future is limitless, unless one takes into consideration the difficulty in navigating through government benefits and broken systems. The world is their oyster, aside from the series of trauma based experiences that brought them to the point of living in transitional housing.

This work is not easy, but it is not about me. Ego must be checked at the door each day because this is not where one comes for validation or even that warm, fuzzy feeling. My supervisor described my role in terms of the tangible.

“You have to be like jello over razor blades that will cut you at some point.”

Yet, it is worth the cuts and the chaos. At the end of the day/week/month, there is always a victory, someone breaking through another barrier that was previously impossibly impassable. The quiet gives me the time and space to remember that, there is always a small victory.

Believe in each other, believe in humanity.

Humanity has to win because if it doesn’t we are no better or more evolved than our fore-monkey mothers and fathers picking fleas from the furry backs of one another.

Sidewalk Speculations

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Two men skillfully maneuvered a brand new cooling unit down a cracked and broken sidewalk. It looked like the kind that would normally pump cold air into a three story house in a neighborhood of similar three story homes, and would sit in its own landscaped portion of the yard, complete with mulch and a creatively shaped bush to distract from the obvious eyesore.
No one stopped to ask where the unit came from or where the men were headed. As a general rule, these are silly details that don’t really matter on this sidewalk, unless you are a cop.
I know exactly where it came from; I watched the pair of men struggle as they wrestled it from the back of an old pick-up truck and onto a dolly. They nearly lost control of it when they lowered it from the bed of the truck to the ground. I envisioned it falling onto the man guiding it down to the dolly, his arms and legs sticking out on either side, in a very Wizard of Oz scene. My next thought was it falling sideways and onto the hood of my car. I cringed at explaining the unlikely story to my husband, already skeptical of most of the dings and nicks on the car.
The men shouted quickly in a foreign tongue, angry at each other and at the monster. Its only defense was in its uncooperative size. If only gravity had its way…
Then of course, I would have nothing to speculate about as the cooling unit was wheeled farther and farther away, well on its way to being scrapped for copper and other semi-precious metals.

Jinxed

One week ago, we walked along a nature trail, happily taking in the fresh air and newly naked trees.  Fallen leaves lined the path; birds flitted back and forth in front of us in flashes of red and brown.  It was a perfect afternoon.

“Can you believe we haven’t been sick, yet?” my husband asked, swinging his arms alongside his body in a casual Sasquatch style.

Suddenly, the sky clouded over and the birds disappeared.  An eerie silence fell on us as my mouth dropped open in disbelief.  I looked around to see if anyone heard what he had just asked.

Unbelievable! What was he thinking?

The look on my face must have led him to believe I didn’t understand the question.

“Can you believe..” he tried to continue and repeat himself.

“Stop!” I yelled.  “For the love of all things holy, don’t say it again.”

“What?” he asked in earnest.  He really didn’t know what was happening.

What have you done?  I wondered silently and shook my head at our bad luck, like a black cat had just crossed our path as we walked under a ladder; I knew what our future held.  I knew it with absolute certainty and it wasn’t good.

“You jinxed us! That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to talk about it anymore and make things worse.”

He laughed and shook his head, a complete non-believer.

He stopped laughing a week later when he got sick with a fever, chills, runny nose and the works. Yet, somehow he remains a disbeliever and chalks his illness up to the flu season and the high prevalence of unwashed hands in the work place and gym.

Now, it’s my turn to laugh.  A big hearty and healthy laugh.  It wasn’t germs that got him sick, it was talking about it and jinxing himself.  Its superstitious and maybe even a little ridiculous, but there’s something to it.

A little something called denial, and that’s more powerful than any old regular pathogen trying to sneak past my immune system.

Thermostat Battles

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The house is finally warm enough for me to stop shivering. I am wearing a scarf, two shirts and a sweater while wrapped in a blanket and can still feel the chill. And even this is a tolerable relief from the freezing conditions of the morning, but sadly, time limited.

This is just another day in the saga of the Thermostat Battles. It has been quietly fought over the last few years by a few degrees in either direction. If its warm, I’m winning, which isn’t often. Everything else is a loss. Admittedly, we try to fairly negotiate the temperature depending on the season but then we each make secret/not-so-secret adjustments when the terms are not agreeable to both parties.

Unfortunately, the odds recently changed in my temperature-opponent’s favor when we acquired a roommate, who also prefers a constant state of refrigeration. He moved in during the hottest season, when long pants and coats are locked away like criminals and windows can be left open at night for the fresh air and sound of cicadas. The open-windows-at-night thing was never a possibility in any of our past apartments unless we wanted to welcome in more than night noises and a breeze.

Back to the present when mysteriously, the windows ended up shut, the A/C kicked on and dropped to a dangerously, hypothermia-causing, get-ready-to-freeze-to-death low. The summer days took on the temperature of the seasons to come, unnaturally early and indoors. Instead of wearing shorts and t-shirt, I was in jeans with a sweater, shivering and silent.

Now it is Fall and my enemies continue to collaborate against me; they make bold and direct moves to freeze me out.

I am left somewhere between a Pacifist and a guerrilla war soldier. We the cold and puny are outnumbered, two to one. We do not want to fight, we don’t believe in war, but fight we must or die in the middle of the night from cold.

While I work on a new battle strategy, I will continue to use the same tactic, adjusting the temperature, slowly enough to avoid detection, but surely, up to a climate more like Key West or Cuba. Yet, each time I hit the button up a degree, I do it with the full awareness that it is only a matter of time before it plummets back down into the cold, cruel torture zone and the battle continues.

Such is the life of Puney.

The Power of Potatoes

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Potatoes are a tuber of particular importance to my family. According to the Bones’ family legend, the Bones left Bone County in Ireland during the potato famine. With nothing to grow and even less to eat, the options were slim pickin’ for their future.

So like so many before and after them, the Bones left in search of a new land to sow and harvest new fields of barely nutritious, starchy vegetables. The funny thing with family history is that although the past is the past, it is guarded by a select few who may or may not be willing to share. This is the extent of early Bones’ history as people of the potatoes.

One way or another, the Bones landed on Alabama’s shores of plentiful opportunity. Filling in the gaps with my imagination, I can only imagine a bunch of grimy faced potato farming relatives packed into a raft, as inspired by the recent images of the Syrian refugees, floating up to a sandy, white beach.

No one stopped the Bones from crawling onto the shore and standing up to claim their new lives as farmers and later sharecroppers. The oppression of the working poor is another post, altogether. The Bones were able to create a new life, one in which their basic needs were met so they could go onto to attain greater success as bootleggers and furniture makers.

This brings me to the point, we were all immigrants at one time or another. Of course, that excludes our real forefathers, the Native Americans, whom I haven’t heard speaking out against our current immigration situation. So live and let live, or go a step further to help others to live better. Immigration should not be a political issue, it should be one of the human right to live free of hunger and hate, to have shoes and housing, and to grow potatoes if you darned well please.