Here, Buy Some Chalk

Throughout my life I have been the eternal optimist. I believe that down the road of life a little further, good things will come my way. I am cognizant that on my journey, I will hit unwanted toll booths, breakdowns, and flats, but I always focus on the journey ahead.

Some years ago while visiting a church friend, he asked me how many miles I had on my car? I answered over 200,000 miles. He was aghast. I remember as I was departing he said to me, “If I had that many miles on my car, I’d be too scared to go anywhere beyond the county line.” I laughed and drove away. As I recounted that conversation, I felt sorry for him. If I had lived with that kind of fear, I would have missed out on a vacations to Florida, missed visiting New England, nor gone beyond the borders of my neighborhood.

Some might call it ignorance, others may say it’s blind faith. For me, I call it life. My friend often bemoaned that he couldn’t go anywhere. He thought I had a lot of money, I did not. What I had was no fear, an abundance of optimism, a sense of thriftiness and good choices.

Countless times in my life, I have helped individuals to the detriment of my own wallet. The reason I do so is because I feel blessed, I want individuals to have what I have. I want them to have a sense of adventure and a boatload of peace. Sadly often times my attempt at “blessing” them in reality hurts them.

Recently for the second time in four months a transient called me in the early morning hours and rattled off the same story he did before. Despite my assistance in January, his circumstances and story never changed. I made several phone calls to agencies who had served him, yet each time, his story didn’t add up. As I declined to assist him this time, he got angry. Sadly, that’s the response I’m getting more accustomed too.

I can’t explain why I’m often asked for money from strangers and acquaintances. Maybe it’s because I need to lose weight this year. I have a bowl full of jelly for a body, so I must be Santa.

I’m not immune to the sufferings of individuals, I listen to their hard luck stories with rapt attention. But sometimes I can’t help but think, we need to have some honest dialogue with those who seek our resources. Can we at least point them in the direction of some of their own life choices?

I recall the story of a woman who never addressed her own sad choices in life and it drove her boyfriend crazy; it was always someone else’s fault. Expecting a nice birthday gift from him, she was stunned to find that all she got after unwrapping her gift was a box of chalk. Furious, she asked why he had gotten her such a stupid gift. To which he answered, “You play the victim so well, I thought it was a perfect choice.” No word on if the relationship succeeded, but I applaud his bravado. If you’re short of chalk for someone like this in your life, ask me, I’m heading to Walmart right now, I’m buying a big box.

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Facing My Fear

It was my first full summer in the Lone Star State; I was a sophomore in college. I had grown up in New England where the thermometer flirted in the low 90’s maybe twice a summer. Now that I was a resident, I was not fully prepared for Texas’s hot summers. This was a whole another world from Vermont. I quickly learned that hell doesn’t scare a Texan. It’s due to the fact that when you leave the comforts of air conditioning, you feel as if you are bobbing for french fries with the fryer on.

I had met a kindly older couple earlier in the fall and they were desperate for one or two young men to mow their lawn while they sought cooler summer temperatures in Minnesota. Since the first half of my summer was extremely busy for me, I made an agreement with another young man that he mow their lawn in May and June, I would take July and August. It was early in July when I finally made it to their little old home. It was down a dusty dirt road. What pitfalls could I possibly run into? They only lived on a little country road called Copperhead Lane. As I pulled up into their driveway, my heart sank. The young man who had promised to be their caretaker of the lawn, had not only neglected his duty, but had not mowed it even once. The grass was almost waist high.

As I wheeled their trusty lawnmower out of their utility shed, dodging mutant red wasps in the process, I checked the fluid levels. Now several pulls on the starter and a kick or two later, I had the motor finally running. Before starting my swath, I raised the blade. I knew it would require a double mowing, the lawn resembled more of an amber waves of grain theme. As the lawnmower lurched forward, something surreal happened. The whole yard came to life. I repeat, the whole yard came to life. Like a withering mirage on a distant road, the blades of grass spewed within its stems hundreds and hundreds of tarantulas. Hidden among the grass was the largest colony of venomous  spiders I had ever seen in my life.

If they had run towards me, I would still be running to this day. My only point of reference for this creature was on a pillow in a James Bond movie. It would be planted there to kill an unsuspecting bad guy. As I jumped back to watch this mass migration, I noticed the noise and vibration of the mower had them teeming into the far side of the lawn.

Angry and fearful that this infestation would probably make my job far more difficult, I ran over one humongous spider the size of my palm with my lawnmower tire. Crushed, it rolled into a ball the size of my thumb nail. It was at this point that I felt foolish. Though the spider had seemed gigantic to me, it was a fraudulent portrayal. It was all legs and he was more frightened of me than I was of him.

As I contemplated my next move, I decided I wouldn’t be in such a hurry as planned. I resigned myself to the fact that the lawn would take forever to mow today, because these majestic spiders needed safe passage to wherever they were going next. I never became a lover of Tarantulas, but I learned to respect them; there is strength in numbers. I am in agreement however with the adage, “Whatever we fear, makes us stronger”. It’s ironic, it’s been 30 years since that day, and for me, it’s still a piece of advice that has legs.

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Does Sex Appeal Have an Expiration Date?

I have an Axe to grind. I have conclusive evidence that sex appeal has an expiration date; at least mine does. Walking the aisles of my favorite grocer recently, I was in need of some body wash. It’s rather amusing that in today’s culture, soap is eschewed. I mean it was carried by the renowned explorer team Lewis and Clark in 1804 for goodness sake, why isn’t it good enough for us now? I’ve seen countless commercials that boast body wash as the magnet of a young life. I bought two brands as a test to see if their hype matches their message. One brand I purchased, always shows that when you use it properly, you immediately become irresistible to women of all ages. I tried it for a month. The only head I’ve turned in 30 days was my shower head. Even my wife was unimpressed; she knows at this point in my life, I am as safe as a celery stick at a daycare center anyway.

I then switched to the second brand; with the words, “Magnetic Clean-Rinsing and Attraction Enhanced” on the bottle. To add extra oomph to it’s label, it touted, “PHEROMONE ENHANCED.” I looked up the word pheromone in the dictionary to be sure I was understanding it’s meaning and implication properly. Aside from the entomology references and pictures of large amorous bugs, It read, “A pheromone (from Ancient Greek φέρω phero “to bear” and hormone, from Ancient Greek ὁρμή “impetus”) is a secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species. Pheromones are chemicals capable of acting outside the body of the secreting individual to impact the behavior of the receiving individuals. There are alarm pheromones, food trail pheromones, sex pheromones, and many others that affect behavior or physiology.

Intrigued, I continued to use this product to see if it actually rekindled any response of a youthful nature. I would have better luck rubbing liniment on my body and walking through a horse barn at Churchill Downs. I have no idea who the poor chap whose pheromone was harvested for this product, but oh, I got a response. I have to assume my bottle was inadvertently aligned with the alarm pheromones. Everyday as I leave my home, I scare people. When did I cross the timeline from hip to hip replacement?

The next time you fear you may be turning more stomachs than heads, or you feel tempted to see if maybe you’ve still “got it”, do what I do! Use a visual aid. Walk through that crowded room with a pizza in one hand and a leash walking an adorable puppy in the other. I mean, who can resist that?

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The More I Travel, The More I See Me

It was a long journey, 7,000 miles in six and a half weeks. I had been granted a sabbatical and the ensuing time afforded my wife and I the opportunity to visit places we’d never been before. Wherever we traversed, our Tennessee license plates proclaimed we were southerners. It afforded us some interesting looks and exchanges.

Don’t tell me you haven’t done a double take yourself when a car with Alaskan plates passes you by on the highway. It’s then you stare intently wondering if the driver has a round Eskimo face and wears baby seal themed clothes as he blissfully chews on dehydrated whale blubber he brought from home. I imagine the Alaskan driver likewise looked at us and wondered why my wife wasn’t in a rocking chair on the roof with our pet pot belly pig on the front seat looking out.

Why is it when we meet people for the first time, we want to label them like cans of soup? My mother’s accent is all Boston, Massachusetts, my Dad, Missouri and Oklahoma. The ensuing blending of these two individuals makes my accent neutral. People can’t tell where I’m from, they just know it isn’t southern, so I must to be a Yankee. I have lived in 10 states and visited 43, I’ve learned to blend in.

What I find fascinating about my wife is she has the ability to mimic any dialect where we’ve once lived. She can sound like she was born in a pea patch in eastern Kentucky or at the drop of a hat, a Texas girl straight from the Longhorn Ranch. She never fails to make me laugh with this hidden talent. However once we arrived in Quebec City, Canada, on our first leg of the journey, our language skills evaporated. The best way I can describe Quebec is it’s like the girl in high school who is cute, but thinks she’s the prettiest and most popular. It’s a nice city, but it wasn’t the nicest we’ve ever visited. A word to the wise, if you visit Quebec, forget parking. It’s like they poured concrete over the whole city and punched holes out for the houses.

Quebec folks know English, they’re just loath to use it. It’s like a secret handshake only a few are privy too. It gives them the opportunity to laugh and mock the tourists who have to pantomime and dramatically act out their needs; food, bathroom, hotel. I imagine as we say thank you and leave, the Quebec native turns to his friend and in perfect English says, “Pierre, it never gets old seeing Yankees pantomiming the word bathroom!”

Our visit to the Northern Kingdom was short lived, we were on a mission. If it wasn’t high gas prices, everyone west of Quebec stopped and asked us if we were going to vote for Trump. Trinket shops are not the best place to wax eloquent on political views. The moment the store keeper asked us about our political leanings, it was like an E.F. Hutton commercial; everybody stopped and leaned in to listen.

After a short two day trip on the long and narrow Trans-Canadian Highway, we crossed back into the U.S and were off to Mt. Rushmore, Aurora, Colorado, and Monument Valley, Utah. Following these places we found ourselves at what we thought was a United Nations homecoming at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. If you want to play match the people to their license plates, go to the grand canyon. It’s like a new board game entitled “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets the cast of Deliverance.” Some of the people I saw reminded me of the store keeper in rural Maine who was standing behind the counter in his general store. One day a heavily tattooed biker with an orange tufted Mohawk hair cut walked up to the counter and in a booming voice, asked the store keeper, “Does anything wild and crazy ever happen in this town?” The owner responding in his thick Down East accent replied, “Well, not until now.”

Our trip’s zenith culminated at the doorstep of our son and daughter-in-law in Texas. We saw our newest grand baby girl. Throughout our trip, people may have had numerous impressions or names for us, but now it didn’t matter. The one we most preferred occurred at the end; Grammy and Grampy.

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