Monday, December 8, 2014

Just Rewards

Fuck it.  I'm the writer, and I'll write "fuck" if I want.  It's therapy.  Try to live with it.

I broke my collar bone, I have a cold, and my wastebasket is overflowing with kleenixes soaked in snot.  (Kleenix:  Fuck you, too.  No for you today.  Sue me: I have a poetic license and know how to use it.)  When I sneeze, everything hurts.  Especially my normally sunny disposition.

So here goes.  Jethro Tull is cranked on the stereo.  (Under 40?  Look it up.)  I'm venting and I can't stop.

I got a speeding ticket.  Yeah, I know, my fault.  I did the whole "Yes, Officer" thing to no avail,  "Yessir, my car is a very bright shade of red."  No avail there either.  Ticket No. A1O1AFA.  $281.  That's not even what makes me cranky.  I have a line item in my budget for speeding tickets.

In Florida, you see, you can avoid points on your license (and potentially retirement-ending increases in insurance premiums) for anything short of manslaughter by going to an optimistically-titled Driver Improvement School.  I did that.  Aced the online course and got my certificate excusing me from further just reward for Ticket No. A101AFA, which I duly presented at the courthouse.  The smiling clerk had the decency (or maybe it was some private amusement) to roll her eyes at her own explanation: "That there's for Ticket No. A101AFA.  What you got here is Ticket No. A1O1AFA."

I still am not truly fluent in Southern, but I get that "that there" and "what you got here," when used together, are Southern for "incompatible."  A1O1AFA.  You see that character in the Ticket No. between the two "1"s?  That's the letter "O."  It is not the numeral "0."  "Don't feel bad," the smiling lady said, "It happens all the time."

Feel bad?  FEEL BAD!!??

I didn't let my inner crankiness leak out until I got back to the courthouse parking lot.  I'm cranky, not stupid.  (Although, as we shall see, that too is open to question.)  But, let's set that aside for now.  Fast-forward to two weeks ago.

This is Florida, where little makes sense on the best of days.  They closed the Pinellas Bike Trail for badly needed repairs -- OK, that makes sense -- but without notice.  With fat little legs pumping furiously and hellbent for the Starbucks in Clearwater on a sunny Saturday morning, I fetched up short against the new signage.  (This was before the broken collar bone, you see.  I'm getting to that.  Hold yer water.)  Anyway, I discussed the overall situation with a clipboard-toting supervisor who was turning back a stream of cyclists, all suffering from varying degrees of cranky. 

"Where," I queried, "is the detour?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I can't give you that information."  (Huh?)

"Why not?"

"Well - don't quote me on this - but the lawyers recommended against it."

That's a quote.

Lawyers or not, I picked a not-too-safe route around the closed section and made my rendezvous with my Vente Coffee Light Frapuccino, One Extra Shot.  On the way home, the clipboard wielder had gone for the day.  So I pissed on his sign.  Don't quote me on that.  I noticed there were a couple of other fresh puddles around the sign.

(Wait - I need another box of kleenix ---)

Feeling flush from my spontaneous expression of discontent over the trail closure, I approached Taylor Park (the very Taylor Park of my dreams), which sits three miles north of home-sweet-trailer-park.  Nice pond, nice  walking trails, nice park benches at strategically beautiful and peaceful locations.  I angled cautiously -- oh, so cautiously -- off the bike path toward the first bench I saw.

And woke up looking up at the trees.

The little old lady who woke me up said I must have hit a tree root under those leaves over there.  More likely I was still pissed enough at the smiling ticket lady or the clipboard guy that I suffered the momentariest lapse in attention.

Fast forward once more to the ambulance because nothing good happened in between.  The EMT manning my IV line casually flipped the question up in the air, "So - have you ever had a stroke before?"  Lucky for the EMT, I had just pissed on a sign, or he would have had an issue with his damn ambulance.

No, I didn't have a stroke, just a broken clavicle.  "Use this sling and take these pills.  You'll feel better in about six weeks."  That doctor didn't know I was going to catch this damn cold.

Now you know why I'm cranky.

(Reminder to self:  When the pain pills wear off, you should probably delete this.)


(Subsequent Note to self about Reminder to self:  Nah!)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Generation Gapping at the Golden Bear Cafe

Habitues of the Golden Bear Cafe & Hash House down on Starkey reflect the surrounding demographic: old, ancient, paleolithic.  Those on their way out are served their eggs and flapjacks by those on their way in.  Occasionally, someone founders in the resulting turbulence.

Sunday mornings, ol' Jasper holds court for those who will listen. 

"Howdy, Miss Lorraine.  Lovely new walking stick you're sporting."

"Jimbo, do you believe I finally sold that old Harley?  Had that thing since '63.  Still starts on the first kick."

"Mary, you look just like my third daughter."

Mary is 75 if she's a day.  But she blushes and nods.  Or maybe that tremor is back.

Wait staff at the Bear are hardened vets, except for Amber, whose shyness whispers around her like a lace veil.  She flusters when she brings Judy a bagel toasted instead of grilled or fills my cup with high-test instead of the damned decaf I've been drinking.  She is awkward beyond the time when awkward is her due.  She's a sweetheart through and through.

I watched this week as Amber delivered Jasper's eggs Benedict, cooked soft, with home fries done not-too-dark.  He pointed to her upper arm as she leaned in to fill his coffee.  "What's that there?"

"A-an owl," she stammered.

"Oh."  Long pause.  "Hmmph."  The twinkle dropped out of Jasper's eyes, and his opinion was clear.  A tattoo on a sweet young thing like that...

Amber didn't respond and went about her business.  Judy and I hung around after Jasper finally made his imperial way to the door.  I invited Amber to sit with us for a minute.

Her tattoo is a pixelated owl in soft pastels, after an embroidery that her grandmother had made when she was born.  It evokes another age in a modern medium.  The huge eyes mirror her own. 

I told her my tattoo story, the one I told you last week, trying not to dodder while I did so.  She brightened a bit, and so did my day.  Funny the different ways what goes around comes around.

That's all -- no more tattoo stories.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Gator Ink

Here in the anteroom to eternity, we are awash with folks whose trendy body art from the millennium has drooped alarmingly.  We're law-abiders here, and no law demands so much of our baby boomer bodies as the law of gravity.  Florida is closer to the equator, you know, and gravity here pulls a bit harder on our hangy-down parts.  The place is lousy with long-long-long-stemmed roses, stretched-out dolphins, and ducks that have morphed into swans.  It's not often pretty.

I knew this would happen.  Back in the '00s, when my son returned from his fourth tour of duty - a dangerous year in Iraq - he sported a nicotine habit and a dragon inked across his chest and left shoulder.  In a rare moment of discretion, I decided not to comment on the smoking.  He was long grown and a war veteran, and I held my tongue about his addiction.  But I casually pointed out that gravity might have its way with his tattoo by the time he hit 60.

I immediately wished I had kept my arrant presumption to myself, and a quiet rift opened between us.  In truth, the dragon was beautifully rendered, subtly shaded and allowed to peek out coyly from an open collar or a short-sleeve shirt.  But what's said can't be unsaid, and I lived with it.

Fast-forward six months to Thanksgiving dinner.  Beers were consumed, times were good, and Erik was still smoking.  I had what seemed an inspiration at the time and announced that if he would quit smoking, I would get a tattoo.  I'm not sure what reaction I expected, but there was nothing.  Nothing at all.  I sensed I had jammed my foot still further into my mouth.  Oops.

Six more months passed, and we hosted a pool party on the deck, with Erik and his friends among the guests.  Beers were consumed and times were good.  One of Erik's co-workers struck up a conversation.  Then, from nowhere: "So, Mr. Newton, I hear you're getting a tattoo."

I have always been proud that I didn't miss a beat in my response.  "Yes," I said, "Yes I am."  I love simple declarative sentences.

Erik accompanied me to the tattoo parlor a few days later, not without a certain glee I think.  And I sat for a portrait on the back of my right shoulder.  I didn't need to worry how the tat would look when I was sixty - I was already on the cusp of that venerable age.

The design will be familiar to fans of M.C. Escher.  I think it's rather fetching.  And my relationship with my tobacco-free son has never been better.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Tyranny of the Empty Page

Uh, world?  Yeah, it's me - - -  Newt.  I'm still here.  I got lost for a while, but I'm back.  Now I have nothing to write about except the damn fool that . . .  No, wait a minute.  Let me start again.

I got back on my bike yesterday after almost three years of indolence and lipid accretion.  They say you never forget how to ride a bike.  As usual, they're wrong.

I took a short and cautious spin around the block, reveling in the breeze on my face and the bugs in my teeth, fat little legs pumping furiously.  Then triumphantly back into my driveway. 

You know that precarious moment between stopping a bike and planting your feet on the ground?  The moment when all your ponderous weight is still on the pedal but your forward momentum is spent, when gravity suddenly demands your full attention?  And you're supposed to tilt gracefully toward the other foot, the foot not on the pedal? 

Yeah, I did that wrong. 

The bleeding has largely stopped, Tylenol being chemical proof that God loves me still.  Part of me wants to feel healthier because I actually exercised for a few minutes.  But another part of me looks at the gash in my shank, perplexed.  "Why, the damned fool forgot how to ride a bike.

I wonder if I remember how this blog thing works.  Let's see what develops.  And next time, I'll lean the other way.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Naked Anxiety

It happened again last light.  I was OJ-ing through an airport when I looked down.  I was naked.  Again.

I thought, "Screw it; it's just that dream again," and hopped on the down escalator, hoping I was right.  I still feel the escalator stairs stinging the soles of my bare feet, and I wondered if the cowcatcher at the bottom would rip my toes off or worse.

I'm getting better as I age.  Time was I would discover my nakedness while frantically searching for the room where my Advanced Calculus exam was being conducted, thinking, "How I could have missed an entire semester of classes?"  Now when the stress dream kicks in, I just wonder what happened to the pants where I put my plane ticket.

I expected when I retired that stress would wither to a curious artifact of a prior life.  Nope.  Here is an eternal principle:  stress expands to fill the emotional space available.

Last week I flew to Robinsonville, Mississippi, which is a suburb of Clack and is usually called Tunica, hard by the Mississippi River.  Permanent population about 6, plus the droves visiting the ten gambling houses perched by the levee.

Of course, you can't fly to Robinsonville, with or without clothing.  You have to fly to Memphis, Tennessee and drive your rented Toyota Yaris 40 miles south on US 61.  The "US" designation on the route number is surely aspirational, since everyone from the area speaks only Clack.  Flying and driving, however, give me no anxiety.  I'm at peace with those things.

I went to Tunica/Robinsonville-near-Clack to play cards.  Duplicate bridge, specifically.  I took up bridge when I retired, hoping to ease the stress that I expected never again to encounter.  Just in case.

In due time, I got pretty good at bridge, in a newcomer sort of way.  It's a demanding game, and I dreamed often of dealing naked.  But I progressed faster than whatever norm applies, and the dreams subsided  That's how I knew I no longer had enough stress in my life.  So I volunteered to teach newbies how to play the game.  And to write a blog for them.  (If you have nothing better to do in life, the blog is here.)

Teaching is a good way to learn.  You need only be a lesson or so ahead of your students, and you can fake the rest.  While you explain timeless principles, those principles become gouged a little deeper in your own grey matter.  In theory.

Teaching's fine, but writing it all down in public raises stress to a new level.  It's not just ambitious newcomers who read the blog, but also players with the decades of experience that I lack.

So there I was in Robinsonville, playing the game and collecting a new bridge credential that I pretend does not matter to me.  That, I think, should give me the confidence to wear clothes all the way home.

When I got smugly home to beautiful Tampa Bay, I fired off a blog article on the subtleties of a peculiar bridge hand that appeared at the tournament:

A J 10 9 5 4
A Q J 10 9 7
♣  (void)

(I just did that to show you I could.)

I explained on-line that the hand should be bid in a certain way to take advantage of the lack of black cards.  Great lesson for new players.  QED.

Not Exactly.

If bridge players share a common trait, it is the criticism gene.  So when I recommend Doubling over 1 Club, there is always someone to argue that the Unusual 2 No Trump would have been a superior tactic.  The fact she was right made matters all the worse.

So here I am waking up on a Memphis Airport escalator again, starkers.  I'd take up checkers, but I have a bridge blog installment due Saturday.