Preparing for his first match of the regional wrestling tournament, Phil sat again on the mat to stretch his leg muscles. He felt tighter than normal, and his stomach was a bit jumpy. He wondered for a moment if it was because of the wild match he'd had with Dan King in the finals of the District tournament last week. Perhaps it was tension from wrestling in the Regional tournament for the first time. Then he smiled a little, as he supposed that it could have something to do with the fact that his opponent in the tournament's first round was the defending state champion in their weight class.
“This time, it’s gonna be different.”
The words fell out of his mouth as he awakened from an immediately forgotten dream. He spoke again. “What the hell does that mean?”
He rolled right and stretched his legs, turned, and set his feet on the hardwood floor. Awake felt like the end of a long race, this morning. Body and spirit, he felt drained of energy and light. A tender knot in his left calf complained as he rose from bed. He crossed the room, removed socks and underwear from a top drawer of his battle-scarred dresser, reached into the doorless and dingy closet, and pulled the light chain. Again, he muttered to himself, “Hmm. One pair of pants, two shirts. Must be laundry day”
Let’s see now, it must have been about 1993. I’m pretty sure, because it was not too long after we bought the house, and very shortly after I started using a daily dose of fiber laxative. These are milestones to remember, I hope you understand.
My morning ritual had been pretty much the same over that decade or so. I’d get up, heat my cup of water, add the homemade coffee concentrate that I favored, grab the newspaper, and head down to the basement bathroom.
The summer afternoon was dark with threatening weather. Through intermittent storms, a young fellow named Chris was driving his little brother to a summer camp. This was not what he expected to be doing, right now. He had expected to instead be in a college auditorium with a few thousand other people, enjoying a live music festival for local bands.
For his girlfriend’s eighteenth birthday, her dad had given her six tickets to the music festival, and a limo with driver to take them to and from. She had chosen two friends and their boyfriends; they would go as three couples. Two days before the event, one of the friends broke up with her boyfriend. After some discussion, they decided to make it a ladies’ night out, invited three more female friends, and cut Chris and the other remaining boyfriend out of the plan.
The sidewalk was old, unkempt, and uneven. Weeds grew in the divides between concrete sections. Most of those sections were cracked and tilted in various directions and at varying angles. He was aware that it went on this way for many blocks ahead, as it had for the many that he’d already put behind him. Most of the yards, and many of the houses that they fronted, appeared to be as worn and neglected as the sidewalk. Even the tall trees looked tired, though they retained the dignity that is their birthright.
Water around the hull of his kayak was black with highlighted ripples, under fading light from the western horizon. Directly over his head, the arch of the sky glimmered with patches of emerging starlight. The eastern shoreline of the small lake, there a few hundred yards in front of him, was already cloaked in shadows. The sky above the tall trees on the hill was only a slightly deeper shade of dark. Between treetop shadows and the shoreline, a few dim lights from windows of summer cabins emphasized the darkness of the approaching moonless night.
He could see her in the window of the apartment across the court from his. Regal, she was. Sleek and beautiful, a little bit exotic. And, it was obvious that she was aware of her own great beauty.
Every evening he would watch her, preening, stretching her limbs as a dancer might do just before a performance. Sometimes, it was as if she was aware of him watching, as he smiled at her beauty and her narcissistic posturing. He wondered if her hair was as soft as it appeared, or if her voice was as sultry as her attitude. She would often stare in his direction, across the space of the inner court between their two buildings, and there were times that he imagined she’d seen and smiled at him.
The cat was there every morning, not always in the same place, but somewhere along my three block walk to the bus stop. One day it would be on the front step or sidewalk of some random one of the houses that were set back from the sidewalk. On another day it would be sitting on the trunk of a car parked in one or another of the driveways. Some days, the cat would approach to within a dozen feet, and would walk a path parallel to mine. Some others it would walk a zig-zag path on the sidewalk ahead of me, looking over its shoulders at me each time it turned, on others it would follow loosely along behind until I was near the bus stop sign. Always, it would talk to me as we walked or as I passed it by.
He leaned forward with his forearms on steel pipe railing, listening to the low chuckles and gurgles of the stream below. Black water with twinkling highlights flowed toward him and beneath the bridge deck. After contemplating that gentle sound for a few moments, he grasped the fob in his pants pocket and locked the car he’d parked just off the road to his left beside the small bridge. He turned, and began a slow walk in the other direction.
The daydream faded in gentle and amusing fashion. I began to notice what my eyes were doing, again. Hmm. Windshield, moving landscape. Oh, shit! I’m driving. Where did I zone out? Where the hell am I, now?
Sitting up straighter for a moment, I lean forward to peer out through the windshield, trying to see any upcoming signs that would tell me how far I’d travelled without noticing. Damn! I need to turn the vent on my face, and the radio. I’ll turn on the radio to keep me from remembering those things that never happened, again. Deep breath, sit back.
In the distance, sound. Low drone of a household furnace that labors against post-dawn chill. Reluctant eyes blink, open to pale light of overcast through frosted window. Awake. Damn. Legs twist around to put feet on floor, pause with elbows on knees, head in hands. Resentment and a full bladder complete the clearance of waking fog.
“Where did they go? We were about to leave, now they’re just, gone.”
I began to panic a bit, and to dart among the groups of revelers in between the entertainment venues, looking for the people that were my ride home. I thought to reach for my phone, and realized I’d no idea where to reach. I touched my back pocket…no wallet, either. I couldn’t recall where they might be. I continued the internal discussion.
“What the hell? Wait, I asked, uh, what’s-his-name to keep an eye on my wallet, but why? Why didn’t I just keep it? Why ask him? Why don’t I remember his name?”
I was driving to work yesterday, and noticed an ant scurrying around on my windshield. Now, my commute is only about two driving miles each way, and as the crow flies it’s only about a mile between my home and my workplace, but that has to be a very long ways for an ant to travel in a very short period of time. I wondered what it thought of this ride on the glass and with the wind buffeting it as it ran in jagged patterns.
I found myself wondering if the ant was experiencing separation anxiety, being so far from its colony, then I wondered if it could still “feel” its connection with the colony, with the queen. If it could still feel that connection, so far away, would it then, while I was inside the store working, make its way to the ground and try to find its way back home? Surely it wouldn’t think to just hunker down in the shade of the windshield wiper well and hope to be carried back home at a later time, would it?
Then another thought followed that; what if it could not still feel its connection with the colony? Would it wander aimlessly in the parking lot or on the lawn at work until some ant predator came along? Would it be adopted by another colony, or be perhaps enslaved by another colony? Or, would it give up in despair at losing its connection, and lay down to die in the aforementioned wiper well, only to find itself, eight hours later, back in range of its home colony?
Either way, if the ant did somehow manage to stay with the vehicle and get back home, how was it received by queen and kin? Was it welcomed as a lost family member? Was it berated for wandering off and neglecting its food gathering duties? Or, was it able to just slip back into its role and shake off the nightmare it just experienced, setting it aside as having found itself for a time in an ant version of the twilight zone?
And, if it didn’t stick with the vehicle and was forever lost to the colony, I wonder if its neighbors or the queen ever think of it and wonder what happened to it. I wonder if the queen ever pulls a supervisor drone aside and says; “So, whatever happened to ol’ #376,412? I haven’t heard from it for a while.” Probably not, I’ve heard that ant queens are pretty callous about workers and soldiers and whatnot.
Heck. I’ve probably spent a lot more time wondering about that ant than its queen has.
This might say more about me than it does about the ant or its queen, but I decided I’m going to stop listening to me, now.
See y’all next time around.
There is turmoil in my world, in recent months. Or, perhaps I should say there is turmoil all around, and there is turmoil in my inner world, and in my interactions with the rest of the world. I am unable to disconnect from the people and events around me. My empathy and observations combine to leave me all too aware of the stresses and strains and the pain and anger in those with whom I interact, and in the wider world of my communities and country and humanity in general.
In other times, I’ve been able to balance all of that with knowledge and observation of all the good, all the beauty in the world, and all the incredibly positive things that humanity does for itself. In other times, I’ve been closely connected with community, or with family, and able to share both the bad and the good, and to feel love and compassion without despair. As a poet, I normally have an outlet in which to share wonderment and anxiety and all things on the spectrum between them.
Lately, though, I find myself alternatively simmering with unfocussed anger, feeling hopeless against the pains and despairs of community and world. I decide to do or to write something about some part of it, only to close the Word file or skip the activity, because I’ve nothing effective or encouraging to say, and can’t see what good I can do, anyhow. There are moments of shared humor and connection in my interactions with people, but beneath those moments I can feel the shared tension of wondering when and what the next blow will be to our civil society and our sense of shared community. I can feel it, even while sitting in my basement and playing simple games on my computer to pass time. A bad play in a silly and simplistic online baseball game is as likely as not to fire a moment of ridiculous rage.
It’s not as if there isn’t good cause for all of this.
On a national level, our system of self-governance and of electing people to guide and administer The People’s will has been twisted and distorted by money and by a decades long effort to make it responsive only to the will of The Few. We have media organizations whose only purpose is to spread ignorance and light false fires of anger in the less informed among us, for profit and to keep The People arguing amongst themselves while The Few laugh in their gated enclaves.
On a local level where I live, things have been slightly better, for some of us. We, as a large metro community, just allowed one of our police officers to shoot a black man dead and endanger his child and partner without cause, and to walk away without legal consequence. So, yes, it’s slightly better here than elsewhere for some of us, but not for all of us. People who I exchange greetings and do life with every day in my workplace are not treated by our community as valued citizens and neighbors, and I can feel it beneath our pleasantries.
I want to make things better. I won’t stop trying to make things better. I won’t stop trying to write about things and bring humor and balance and perspective to all the things that ail us.
Thanks for sticking around on this aimless little trail of words. See y’all next time around.
Am working toward full comprehension of the exact line of division between a false start and a short yet complete burst of thought. It’s not as easy as it sounds to tell the difference between a lost train of thought and the only other stop on a short track loop.
I was born in Eureka, South Dakota, but by age two and a half convinced my parents to move to Battle Lake, Minnesota, located on the shores of the lake of that name, in a county named for another lake, Otter Tail. It was easier to convince them than that might make it sound.
If I’d known I was listening
I’d have said nicer things
Everything about me is accidental. I didn’t like anyone else’s plans for me, so I taught them all a lesson by never making any of my own. Hah! I was right. I got here, anyway, without any silly old plan.
When you work for a large corporation, ridiculous ideas, directives, and projects come down from above on a regular basis. This is to be expected when you consider that the main job of most mid-management positions is to justify one’s existence in that position. “I haven’t seriously screwed anything up” is apparently not sufficient answer to the question “What have you done for us lately?” This is just one reason I keep telling my current employer that I’m just fine at the store assistant level. I don’t need that sort of stress and nonsense in my life.
Did you know that the reason men have to wear neckties when wearing business or formal attire is that shirt buttons in the 18th century were handmade, meaning that it was unlikely that 5-6 perfectly matched buttons could be gathered for each shirt?
I was raised in a family that treated participation in sports as an important thing in and of itself. Not important for the lessons to be learned, not for the leadership or teamwork abilities gained, but important only for the sake of being good at all sports in which one participated. This twisted my world view, and actually kept me from pursuing possibilities outside the limiting range of options that perspective gave me, until I was out of high school and away from active participation for a year or so. It was at least another decade before I was completely free of the residues of that false importance.
The two biggest reasons that men and women often have trouble understanding each other, are 1) Men, and, 2) Women.
Pursuing happiness rarely actually works, because happiness is a shy and skittish thing that prefers sneaking up quietly from behind over be chased.
I’ll leave you, this week, with something I’ve already said elsewhere:
What does this appear to be? What is its sound? Is there color in how it feels? Does it leave an aroma as it passes? Be careful how you answer these questions, as they may lead you down the road of poetry. On that road you may easily find or lose yourself.
See you next time.
PS: Oh, and speaking of reflections, here's a random photo of some.
I wrote a poem, in the wee hours of this morning. I hadn’t written any poetry for a while. Checking in with Word, I see that my most recently written poem file before this was saved on February 20. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, because I’ve been more consumed with writing in recent months than has been the case for a couple of years. I’m just not writing poetry. These days, when I have impulse or measured intent to write, I find myself doing this.
Yes, you know, this thing that I’m doing here; this blog-essays thing. Blog-muse has apparently mugged and taken poet-muse hostage and locked her in a closet. When I decided to write a poem this morning, I had to be quite stern with blog-muse in convincing her that she had to let poet-muse out to sit with me for a while. The way that my mind has been automatically turned toward writing whole sentences and paragraphs lately, I had some small, niggling worry that maybe I was losing touch with my poetic place to be. In retrospect, it was silly to worry, but it was shortly before 4am…on a day off…and I wasn’t sleeping…so worry is what I did.
While this was going on, I left the bed and came to the computer, and to Facebook. After checking notifications, I began scrolling the newsfeed, and was taken by a photo of a strikingly beautiful young woman in a scenic place, on a link to a news article. I stared blankly at her through the dull fog of 3:58am for a handful of heartbeats before deciding that it was time to face down the impulse to essay and find my way to a place of poetry. I opened a new Word file, flexed my fingers, leaned forward in my chair, closed my eyes and brought the photo into view, and strained to reach for the poem.
Huh. That was not what I unexpected.
No resistance. It was like leaning in to push a door just as someone pulls it open from the other side. The first few lines nearly wrote themselves, and I was in the groove. For the next blanked out piece of time, I was choosing and fitting and re-fitting and retro-fitting and turning upside down and back to front, until the moment came when the poem cried out for mercy and final relief from the pains of its birth, and I relented. Yep, there it was, a little bit of a thing, as poems go, kind of lean in the phrasing and light on the imagery, but worthy of adoption and of public display with my name.
Now, I had to re-read the poem with intent to find its title. It’s not always easy to find, but every poem provides its own title, in my world, even if it’s only a reflection not easily noted. This one was as easy to find as the poem was to write. It was balanced right there between L3 and L4, all it needed was the addition of one word. I said it out loud as I typed it across the top, “Little poem, you shall go out into the world and be known as: She Smiles, Unaware.”
With that, I noted that it was now 4:37am, it had taken less than an hour to prove to myself that I could still find a that place without trouble. Oh, yeah! I pushed back from the computer and surged from my chair to dance a lively jig around the basement while chanting, “Yew-betcha folks! Here he is, the One-Hour Poet! That’s right, I’m bad. Yoo-Hoo!”
Okay, that’s not true. It wasn’t a jig, it was more of a staggering limp-shuffle-and reach for a door frame. And, it wasn’t so much a chant as it was a groaning sigh of combined relief and pain. Okay, so it was really a matter of not realizing how badly I had to pee until I had finished the poem, and the “yoo-hoo” at the end was because I made it to the bathroom in time.
All right, time to go. No, not that, I mean I’m finished here, I already went. The poem is below the sign-off. Stop speculating about my coffee consumption and go look at it so its feelings aren’t hurt. Poems hate to be ignored, you know.
See y’all next time.
She Smiles, Unaware
Mystery lurks behind
of a sweet, serene smile,
unaware of its power
to please, and to create
of playful passions,
explored in soft grasses
of a mountain meadow
beneath a sapphire sky,
in wishful memories
of impossible love.
Kevin R. Carr (2017)
I used a picture of this painting as visual bait with a link to a blog posting, recently, though I edited the photo to take the frame out and smooth over some damage. This is the unedited photo of the painting, with all its flaws and dings from age and from a time of poor stewardship. I take it for granted, sometimes, but I really do dearly love this old piece of art. I know, it doesn’t look like much, and it isn’t worth much, according to the appraisal I commissioned and the internet research I’ve done. That’s okay, though, because it’s a piece of my history, a bit of my life bound inside a gothic frame, a reminder of the part of my identity that can be traced back to my paternal ancestors.
When I was a child, this painting hung high in an odd corner of a living room wall in my great aunt’s house, higher than artwork etiquette would normally allow, in the shadow of a short stairway in the hall of the boarding house space above her living room. And, though it hung in shadows, there was always something luminescent about it. That house had originally been built by my paternal grandmother’s father and mother, and her sister stayed in the house for many years after they died. Grandma told me once that her mother had purchased the painting and hung it in that spot to cover a large blank wall space that was created by an upstairs passageway, before Grandma was born. So, that would mean the painting was purchased sometime prior to 1912, and most likely was right around 1900.
It’s an unusual piece of work, in that it’s painted backward on glass, in a process that reverses the usual way of paintings done on canvas. So, what are the surface details were painted first, and then middle-ground and background were layered on top of that. Then, when it was finished and framed, it was turned around so that you are viewing it through the glass on which it is painted. Furthermore, the moon was applied before the paint, and is made of mother-of-pearl, as are some of the stained glass windows. It was and is considered commercial art, not fine art. I had it appraised a few years ago, after my dad got it in his head that it might be worth serious money. I was told that, in excellent condition it would be worth something in the two to three hundred dollar range, but that in its condition it might worth seventy five dollars and that mostly for its restorable frame.
That’s okay, it’s not about money for me. My great aunt’s house, mentioned above, was one block from my elementary and junior high school. We lived about fourteen blocks from the school, and most of the time I walked to and from. However, in extremely cold weather, my mother would get me up early and drive me to Aunt Loretta’s house on her way to work. I would wait there for the half hour or so before the school doors opened, and walk the final block. Then, if the afternoon was still extremely cold, I would walk to Loretta’s house after school, call Mom and watch television with Loretta or read comic books or do school work, until Mom got off work and picked me up on her way home. There were two couches in Loretta’s living room, and I would often lie back on one, facing the wall on which this painting hung, and daydream. Sometimes, I would make up little stories about living near this river and lake and church or abbey, whatever it was, just to amuse myself and pass time.
Later, after Loretta died, Grandma had this painting in her bedroom, and, being an artist, she also painted a version of it on canvas, which I’m pretty sure my older brother has. I asked her if I could have this one someday, and she wrote my name on a piece of paper and attached it to the back. After she died, my dad assumed custody of it, and told me I could have it after he was through with it. Eventually, he began watching Antique Roadshow or some such, and got the idea that I mentioned earlier, that it might be worth some money. I got a little stubborn at that point, and insisted on bringing it back to Minneapolis and having it appraised. Once it was established that there was no value to speak of, the debate was over and it has hung in my bedroom ever since. It’s in a spot where I am looking directly at it with my head on my pillows, just as it was when it was high up on Aunt Loretta’s wall, and I would lie back and look at it with my head on the arm of one of her couches. And, yes, sometimes, I still daydream about living inside of it some, when contemplating whether or not to get out of bed in the morning.
It helps me to feel at home sometimes, when I’m lonely for long ago places.
I looked around the room for it. Nothing. I surfed the internet in search of it. Still nothing. I flipped through an old photo album, and it wasn’t there, either. Finally, I got up and grabbed a jacket and walked to the park down the street, where I wandered a bit in the little woods and then took the long way home. Nope. Still nothing.
Inspiration is simply refusing to be found, today. All those clever little thoughts and inspirational moments of the last week have simply gone away. Oh, I’m sure they’ll be back, but probably not as long as I’m sitting here trying to force them to come home and inspire me, so I’ll simply have to write without inspiration. Of course, there may be those who would suggest that I always write without inspiration. To them, I would offer the most mature response I have at hand, “Phbt!”
There. Now that I’ve given some back to those strawman critics, I can move on to some seriously uninspired writing.
So, uh, well, here goes, uh, so I started an Instagram account a while ago, wanting to increase my social media exposure with photos sometimes combined with phrases. I’m not very good at it, though. I mean, I remember to take my phone/camera when I go for a walk, or for a drive, and I’ve uploaded a number of nature photos and some images of artwork collaborations, but I keep forgetting the important stuff. So far, I haven’t presented a single picture of beautiful food. Ridiculous, right? My millennial friends must all be shaking their heads in scornful pity at my food-photo failings.
It happened again, yesterday. I met with my old-guys group for a late breakfast and coffee. My corned beef hash and over-easy eggs were a beautiful combination to see. Perfectly seasoned and blended hash, crispy and caramelized on the outside, drizzled with golden hollandaise, snuggled up to three beautiful eggs with creamy whites and rich, orange yokes peeking through pale films. As usual, I dove in with gusto and complete disregard for my Instagram responsibilities. I was getting close to the burp and sigh stage, when I finally thought of the missed photo opportunity.
Dang. How am I ever going to build Insta-cred if I keep doing this?
Speaking of being an old guy, what’s the deal with ear and nose hair? I never had to deal with either of them until the last decade or so. It’s kind of a pain. If I didn’t trim my nose hairs on a regular basis, my mustache would look as if it has its own mustache. And, of course, when nostril hair and mustache hair come together, an unbearable tickle-twitch is inevitable. This causes me to paw at them in attempt to stop the sensation, which probably makes it look to passersby as if I’m digging for something in my nose.
Ear hairs might be even worse. They don’t grow in bunches, as nostril hairs do, they grow as stiff, wiry individuals. They either grow straight and true across an ear fold to poke and tickle the far side, or curl to poke and tickle the skin at their own base. This can drive me to a desperate search for a mirror and trimming scissors, or even, if the hair is long enough to grasp when it begins tickling, to rip it from its follicle with a manly squeal of pain.
And, since I’m on the subject of hair, what the heck happened to the hair on my legs? I was never yeti-like, but I had kinda hairy legs, until the last decade or so. What happened? Is there a connection between balding legs, receding hairline, and aggressive ear and nose hair growth? Is anybody doing the research on this?
And, hey! Look at that! There’s enough uninspired words and phrases here to fill a blog space for another week! Oh, and here's an irrelevant pic to go with the title up there. See y’all next time around.
Turns out, I have a reputation as a serial killer, among the local arachnid population
It all started with a simple act of mercy while doing laundry in my basement. I took the last item of clothing from the blue Tupperware tub and threw it in the wash machine. When I looked back in the tub, there was a black spider, with a body about the size of a quarter, racing frantically around the curve where the floor of the tub becomes the wall of the tub. It couldn’t get any traction to climb up the wall, so it just kept up its pattern of mad dash, stop and try to climb, resume dashing, and repeat over and over.
I shuddered a bit, imagining the burst of explosive activity that might have ensued had she clung to a piece of clothing and found herself deposited onto my arm while I was transferring clothes from basket to wash machine. Now, I had a decision to make. I could kill her, or push the tub in the corner and leave it, thereby punishing her for the foolish decision of napping in a plastic tub full of my dirty laundry, but she wasn’t technically in either of my arachnid-kill zones. I don’t allow spiders anywhere that I sleep or get naked, so my bedroom and bathroom are kill zones, but this was the laundry room, even though it involved a spider (shudder) in my clothes.
With a heavy sigh, I admitted to both the spider and myself that there really wasn’t a choice, if I wanted to keep my integrity intact. She ignored me and continued her frantic attempts to find a gate or a door or just some rough spot on the plastic in order to grip and climb. I grasped one side of the tub’s upper rim, and slowly tilted it toward the side the spider was on, planning to give her a ramp to the floor. At this, she outright panicked, and began trying to defy gravity in earnest, actually flipping herself briefly onto her back in her attempts to climb the rising floor of the tub. When I finally had the tub lying completely on its side, she took note of the new situation and ran straight to the rim, leaped to the floor, and scrambled around the side and beneath the tub.
I spoke encouragingly to her while sliding the tub sideways to show her a path to freedom in the dark place under the basement stairs. She made three desperate attempts to retain her cover beneath the jerkily moving tub, before dashing briefly in the right direction and then making a sudden and complete u-turn around the tub and toward me. I used to be an athlete, remember, so I quickly zigged right a half-shuffle, to keep the tub between us. She reversed course again, and caught me off guard, I had no choice but to step back from the tub or seriously risk spraining something.
As she rounded the tub and saw my retreat, I’m pretty sure I heard a tiny voice screaming “Cowabunga!” and what might have been something about “Cowardly serial killer!” as she came at me with all the speed her eight legs could generate. I was cornered, with no place to go, it was going to come down to her or me.
I pleaded with her to remember that I could have left her in the tub to die a slow death of starvation, or that I could have squished her with a paper towel and left her to bleed out in the trash can next to the dryer. It worked. She stopped a full thirteen inches from my left foot, shrugged, and dashed under the dryer.
For the last two hours, every time I walk past the dryer I hear what I could swear is multiple tiny voices raised in mocking laughter. Maybe I should go for a ride, and let them get it out of their systems before I go back into that room again.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, although I'm a Poet, I have decades of experience in sales, sales management, business consultation, and retail management. With that in mind, here are some random excerpts from a fictional manual that I may or may not write, someday.
*When there is a problem, the customer is rarely right. However, as a customer service professional, it is up to you to convince them that, a) they are actually wrong, but, b) they’re wrong in a perfectly understandable and acceptable manner. It is then up to you to persuade them to accept your profuse apologies for being right, and convince them to allow you to give them an extra customer satisfaction discount, to help them deal with the potential psychological strain of having been wrong.
*If you’re in a retail operation that requires you to periodically drop money in a security safe to keep a minimal amount of change in cash registers, you can expect one of the next two customers after each money drop to make a cash purchase of less than $10 with a $100 bill. You are not allowed to a) grimace and call them a vulgar name, b) tell them to take their inconsideration elsewhere, or c) tightly wad and squeeze the bill and then stuff it forcefully up their nose. A thin smile, quiet sigh, and a shrug, should accomplish the desired guilt effect, as you hand the customer the last bills from your cash drawer.
*If you work in a large chain of stores, and management type people from the corporate offices visit your store, always take a few moments of prep time to don metaphoric rain coat and boots, because it’s likely that on that day b-s is going to rain down on your head and collect to a level well above your ankles.
*“I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening loud enough to hear you mumble. What brand of cigarettes did you want?” is kinda unacceptable as a response to a customer. Yes, I know how satisfying it is…er, would be, but don’t.
*Although the customer thinks that they are there to make a purchase, and the company thinks you are there to help the customers make purchases and maximize company revenues, neither of those are your priority as a customer service employee. Your priorities must always be to a) mess with customers’ heads at every opportunity, and b) never allow corporate management types to figure out that you’re there to have fun and that you only incidentally accomplish what they want, while c) always remembering that a comes before b, and that management begins with an m, which isn’t even in the list.
*There is a direct correlation between how loud a customer’s voice becomes and how wrong they are in their assertions. The loud ones are easy to handle, too. You just let them vent, ask what they mean and let them vent again, and then swoop in with a solution while they’re feeling the warm glow of venting.
*It’s the ones who quietly and firmly state what is wrong without histrionics or scowls that you have to watch out for. Fail to please them and they’re guaranteed to ruin someone’s day at corporate headquarters. This, in turn, is likely to ruin one of your upcoming days.
That sort of chain reaction isn’t good for anyone. When the quiet ones complain, just ask them what they want, give it to them, and get them out quickly. Don’t worry about giving too much away, it’s always better to apologize for giving too much than it is to listen to some toady in a corporate cubical climb out of a telephone and into your ear.
*Always remember that sanity is a relative thing, to help keep you from doubting yours.
While I think about what to write this week, I’ll fill in a bit of background on myself for you.
I graduated high school in the spring of 1976, from Northland High School in Remer, MN. I went to college for a quarter that fall, in Wahpeton, ND, then left school to “go out and find myself.” After that, I flailed and bounced around North Dakota for a year or so, doing stints as a mechanic’s helper and as a milk-man, at both of which I was hilariously bad. Then, in January of ’78, I was hired to manage a headshop above an art gallery and imported goods store in St. Cloud, MN, and my career in business related work began.
After two years of that, I spent about three weeks driving a garbage truck in Ottertail County, MN, helping my dad decide not to buy the truck and the route that went along with it. I’m reasonably certain that the owner of the truck and business was eventually able to regain most of the customer goodwill lost during my brief stint operating the route.
Next, came a step back into retail sales and management, with a hardware and sporting goods company in St. Cloud, and then a transfer to Minot, ND, as an assistant manager with the same company. Once in Minot, it took me only a year to cleverly alienate the district manager. In this fashion, I forced myself to make a long desired leap into the retail stereo equipment business, first in Williston, ND, and later back in Minot, where I met my first wife and her two boys, who I later adopted. The four of us moved to Fargo, ND in ’82, where I went to work for a chain of stereo/electronic equipment stores with six locations in Minnesota and one in Fargo.
I transferred back to St. Cloud with that company as a store manager in ’84, and our youngest son was born there in September ’85. Four months later I quit working full time to stay home with him days, and worked part time with a janitorial service at night. First wife was working in the state college system by then, and it made sense for me to be the daycare we’d otherwise have to pay for. She later transferred to Moorhead State College in Moorhead, MN, and we moved back to the Fargo/Moorhead area late in ‘86. Our divorce came in ’88, and later that year I took my first road sales job as a manufacturer’s rep in ND with Sony.
That’s also the year that I again started writing poetry, after having not written anything since early high school. I wasn’t very good at it, of course, but I was determined to at least explore the possibility of learning to express myself poetically, because I’d been fantasizing about becoming a poet ever since I began listening to Dan Fogelberg songs, the year that I graduated high school.
A year later I moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, and started what became a twenty-two year career as a road salesman of food production equipment for restaurants and institutional kitchens and specialty food shops, in Minnesota, NW Wisconsin, and the Dakotas.
In ’92, my current wife and I married and bought a suburban Twin Cities home. I continued to travel and sell until the internet and the crash of ’08 finally killed my career, though it limped along until ’11 when I did a few months of freelance writing, then spent a glorious six months as co-manager of a live music venue/coffee shop in Minneapolis. It was in that place that no longer exists, called The Beat Coffeehouse, I began the process of finally discovering my true self, when I stumbled into it as a seeker in April of ’09. That was when I began to fully realize that I was not/am not a salesman who wrote/writes poetry, that I’m a poet and human collaborator with over thirty years of sales experience.
In the meantime, after The Beat experience was over, I took a position assisting the manager of a corporate owned convenience store two miles from my house in mid-2012, and here I am still, harassing customers and fellow employees for thirty-five hours a week. The rest of my time I write and read and socialize and social media-ize, sometimes I perform live (never dead…yet) or go watch others perform, and sometimes I sit down to agonize over what to write for this blog that Publisher Guy wants me to fill with words on a regular basis.
That reminds me. I still don’t have a subject for this week.
What is home?
Here’s what I think; Home is love, and it is many other things in time and space.
In the here and now, home is that place you most love to most often be. Home is the people with whom you most wish to spend your life and times. Home is the familiar strangers that pass through our days and hours, at work and in the places we shop and play and worship and wander. Home is the familiar sound that does not become invisible background or unignorably annoying. It is that place where, when awakened abruptly from slumber, you can recognize the sound of a child or spouse not at home.
In moments between the here and now, home is nostalgia. It is the song that triggers treasured memories, the aroma that takes one back to a place where young desires were triggered or satisfied. Home is the friendships of childhood, always remembered and sometimes kept current, and sometimes returned to after absence. Home is those places we’ve lived, loved, succeeded and failed, and gone back to time and again for renewal and re-creation of self. Home is the places that scarred us and the places that healed us, and the places we’ve gone to forget about both.
And, in nature, home is those places where we feel most alive, most solidly connected with who we are. Whether forest wilderness or city habitat, park or street corner, quiet lake or raging river, or whatever other natural places touch our souls with comfort, these places are home.
Home is also in virtual spaces, in the people and online venues that we use to connect and build relationships and entertain and inform each other. And, home is in the arts and music and words that we create and shape and appreciate and share together. Wherever we interact in comfort and trust and respectful challenge with each other, these are home, as well. The coffee shops and cafes and bars and performance spaces where we gather, all are also home, when we are there.
I won’t use the cliché, but it really is true.
See you next time around.
I think of poetry as belonging to two very broad classifications. There is, in my opinion, Stained Glass Poetry, and Plate Glass Poetry. I outright stole these definitions from Isaac Asimov, but I filed the serial numbers off and replaced the word “literature” with “poetry,” so I’m sure his estate will never notice.
Stained Glass poetry concentrates on how beautifully and creatively something is written, how deeply layered its metaphors may be, and so on. Plate Glass poetry generally concentrates on stories, images, and emotions, while the writing sort of stays out of the way as best it can.
Most of the poetry I write falls into the Plate Glass category, though I do occasionally wander into Stained Glass territory. This might be because I was not a student of poetry before becoming a poet. I had things I wanted to express, so I just started writing and let the words arrange themselves as seemed right. Later, when I became a creature of the internet, I used workshops and others’ observations and critiques to get better at writing in my own poetic voice.
I’m still not a student of poetry. If you read something of mine and find it to be a perfect example of some classic form of poetry, it’s probably sheer coincidence that the words found their places in that order when I arranged them to say what I wanted to say. I rarely set out to write in any particular form. I generally set out to write with a story to tell, or a place, or something emotional in mind, and the form finds itself as I write.
In fact, I suspect that my poetic voice has been influenced more profoundly by my three and a half decade career as a salesweas…er, as a salesman than it was by any classic or academic poetry to which I’ve been exposed. The habits of close observation and empathy, developed and practiced in trying to make a living on sales commissions, are among the major components that shape the subjects and objects of the poetry that I write. Those subjects and objects then inform the final forms of the words and the styles in which they prefer to present themselves.
So, all that sales training and practice made me better at this poetry thing than I would otherwise have been. I can think of at least one past sales manager who would’ve resented being accused of accidentally helping me to become a better poet. This makes me smile, so I’ll stop here.
Had the passenger side airbag inflator replaced in my truck, today. The dealership does a pretty fair job of making the wait for auto service pretty painless. Wi-fi available, three varieties of coffee plus decaf, and three varieties of tea bags available, along with bottled water and four varieties of cookies, all free. There are six large, flat screen televisions scattered around the waiting room, as well, so the entertainment options are plentiful.
The only problem with all of this, is that it takes some of the martyrdom out of having to take over two hours of my day off to drive all the way, the whole six point one miles each way, to the dealership, and wait for the work to be done. I brought my computer along, because I thought I’d write for the blog about what a miserable waste of time it was going to be to have to sit there and wait, and then it turned out not to be even uncomfortable.
Since I didn’t have anything negative to rant about, I looked up from the computer. I noted that the young women who were keeping the refreshment area stocked and clean were both very pleasant to watch, while they performed these small duties. The young man that brought out one tray might have been just as pleasant to watch, but I was distracted by an email notification that my vehicle was ready, just as he entered the area.
Heck, the whole experience was so positive, I’m thinking I might start hanging out there, even when I don’t need any vehicle work done. The place has everything I need to recreate or do poet’s work, with food and drink, internet access, entertainment, and other useful distractions for those non-working moments.
Back to the problem of the moment, though, I still don’t know what I’m going write about this week.
Okay, so I’ve published a book, and a few people have purchased copies or downloads. Now, Publisher Guy wants me to write regular entries for this blog. That’s a great idea, but there’s a problem…I’m seriously lazy as a writer, it’s one of the reasons that I’m a poet. Poetry is easy, I either wait for inspiration or sit down and doodle on the computer keyboard and see what happens.
I tried freelance writing a few years ago, and discovered that one sure way to turn off my writing energy was to apply a deadline. Tell me that I have to have something written and ready by a week from Thursday at 3pm, and regardless of my earnest intentions my muse hears, “You’ve got 6-1/2 days to stress yourself out over this before flailing around and finally sitting down to do it at 12:52pm next Thursday.”
So, I’m going to try and get something written and entered here every week, but I’m not going to stress myself over it. Can’t swear the subject matter will always or even ever be profound or entertaining, but perhaps I will come up with something amusing or interesting from time to time. I’ll keep the entries fairly short, for the sake of all of our attention spans.
This week, I’m writing while doing laundry. I love the phrase “doing laundry,” because it sounds like an activity when it’s mostly sitting around and waiting. “I’m doing laundry” sounds a lot better when answering a text asking what I’m up to, than it does to say that I’m sitting in my basement in front of the computer imitating a vegetable with eyes, while the clothes washing equipment drones in the background.
Funny thing about laundry, it requires a large block of time to be set aside in order to spend a very little bit of that time doing anything to accomplish the goal of clean clothing. Gather and sort, load machine, wait. Unload machine, move clothes to dryer or hanger, wait. Unload dryer and hang or fold clothing, wait. Repeat with subsequent loads until finished. So now, when I meet my friends for breakfast tomorrow and they ask me what I did today, I can say that I spent the morning doing laundry, when I’ve really just been sitting around in my sleeping shorts, playing on the computer and waiting for the next 3 minute burst of activity.
I’ll see y’all here next week.