When you look around the world things can appear grim and scary. I have some suggestions:
1. Be nice to somebody today.
2. Learn to think about other people.
3. Take pictures of the people and the world around you.
4. Check your address. If it’s not Aleppo be thankful.
5. Answer a little kid when it talks to you.
6. Stay in the shower longer than you have to.
7. Spend a few minutes with someone who is hurting.
8. Read a book.
9. Pick up a piece of litter.
10. Kiss that favorite someone for no reason whatsoever.
11. Indulge in silliness.
12. Fix a great meal. Share it with someone you love.
13. Go outside your house.
14. Remember a day that made you glad to be alive.
15. Write down something that happened.
16. Make someone laugh.
17. Refinish a piece of furniture.
18. Take a nap without feeling guilty.
19. Breathe deeply.
20. Dance in the kitchen.
I really don’t want to write like you as beautiful as it is,
too much pain, too much semen and maggots and blood.
I read you like a junkie shooting up, a rush to the brain.
When I was young I was cute with great hair
and the girls loved me, and I didn’t get turned down
for jobs or sex or clubs I wanted to get into.
My skin was clear. I didn’t suffer your crucifixions.
I was tough and mean with very fast fists,
and no one picked on me because I would hurt them
without even thinking. Not proud of that.
It was simply the way it was for a southern boy who
understood the brutal truths very early.
You were the kind of guy I felt sorry for, a pitiful loser,
foreigner, edge-liver, dredger of all that was ugly
and broken in the world, the ragged sax player on the corner
pumping out heart breaking jazz to the bus stop,
the indifferent traffic with windows rolled up in their oh so
precious cars, and bank clerks on the busses who
felt superior to you as the chrome beasts belched smoke.
Your reed was black with their smoke and still you
played on oblivious to their indifference, knowing in your heart
that your notes mattered, and you just didn’t give
a shit whether anyone was listening or not – you played.
I was not born with that courage or tolerance to pain.
I have a confession to make to you, and I hate confessions.
I believed the world about you, critics and small minds,
that you were the dirty old man who wrote about drunken
sex, vulgar roaches, ugly beaches and bars and whores
and everything that would make us awaken vomiting the horror,
and they were right, but they were so terribly wrong.
So terribly wrong. You were so tuned in, so engaged with what
the rest of us weren’t even seeing, feeling it all, like few
ever have and I thank whatever that I didn’t have to live in your
skin, or feel all of that. Feel all of that and shake.
Feel all of that and shake, the boil on your neck and the last beer
and cigar at three in the morning when no place is open.
You lived with a whore for ten years and loved her purely like an
Old Testament prophet, and when she finally died from
too much booze and life, you grieved for her for the rest of your life.
You wrote poems to her thirty years after she was gone,
poems that I read after you were gone, and I could feel her in them.
That is being a real man, even when you saw yourself as
a frightened child cowering in fear from the playground bullies,
those whose faces I would have broken with my hands.
Your love was so deep, so much deeper than my wicked hands,
so much deeper than Mozart, Faulkner or Freud.
You taught me something about loving people I won’t forget,
loving the broken, damaged, unlovable people.
I am bleeding now, my red life dripping onto the keyboard.
The cat bit me and the wound will not stop bleeding.
You loved cats, five as I recall. I don’t know what your cats
were like but mine is a ruthless killer who draws blood.
A friend of mine said, “You have to draw enough blood to
the surface that some of it comes off on the paper” – art.
Maybe that is why you loved the cats. Did they make you bleed?
Did you curse them in the night for the wounds they made?
Did you admire the purity of their cruel bloody fangs and claws?
Did you call them over to drink of your life as it spilled
onto the linoleum floor, the toaster, the sofa stained with beer?
My cat is in the alley right now because she knows I am mad.
Between young and old,
black and white,
rich and poor —
Between right and left,
gay and straight,
man and woman —
Between Inside and outside,
thought and feeling,
dreaming and waking —
Between now and then,
yesterday and today,
today and tomorrow —
Between them and us,
you and me
We need to build more bridges.
August 19, 2014
An old man with one arm, African–American, sat on the bench in front of Days Espresso. He was bumming cigarettes, but I didn’t have any, having quit in January. He said, "Hello" to me but nothing more. I said, "How are you doing?" but he didn’t answer. He didn’t ask me for anything — a relief – but just his presence made me feel guilty. I wanted to fix his devastated life, but I couldn’t. I tied up my shiny bike; the price of it would feed the old man two months, but that wasn’t going to happen. I went inside and got a coffee. The old man finally walked away. I hope he had somewhere to go.
I had an intervention with myself and faced the fact that I am a bicycle junkie. I’m an addict. I don’t feel really right until I get out on my bike and ride. I received a particularly upsetting telephone call two nights ago. I thought about it for a couple of minutes and then I put on my helmet and reflective gear, turned on the lights and rode my bike until I got my feelings in order about what I had heard. The bike has become my drug.
The bicycle is actually a bunch of drugs for me. It’s my psychotropic anti-depressant. It’s my blood sugar reducing diabetes drug. It’s my cholesterol-reducing Crestor replacement. It’s my stiff-joint, NSAID, anti-inflammatory. It’s my blood pressure reducing anti-hypertension high blood pressure drug. It’s my diet and sleeping pill.
I have hypertension (high blood pressure) and due to the drugs I take for that, I need to have regular blood tests. A couple of years ago, I began showing very high blood sugar in the tests. My doctor said that I could go on another drug or get some aerobic exercise every day. I opted for the exercise and got really serious about getting some significant bicycle time every day. I’m averaging seventy miles a week on my bike and my blood sugar has been reduced by 60%.
The bike is my “non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory” drug. Once upon a time, just climbing the stairs in my home would have my knees screaming. Today, I climb them like a sixteen-year-old – no pain.
The bicycle is my diet pill. When I committed to riding my bike every day, I weighed 212 pounds and wore a snug 38” waist pants. Today, I weigh 178 and wear a loose 34” waist paints – in a bit more than a year and a half. My significant other totally loves the transformation. I feel fit and sexy rather than old and overweight.
I still have to take my high blood pressure meds. While I am getting better readings, I still have times when the blood pressure is too high. The bicycle is helping, and there may come a day when I can quit taking the meds, but it’s not here yet.
The bicycle is my sleeping pill. I have always been one who fights sleep. I will stay awake all night under the right circumstances, but that is unpleasant. It is hard for me to fall asleep at night, but when I have ridden 16 miles in a day, I care barely stay awake until midnight. It is well known that better sleep improves your overall health, including weight, skin, healing and mental acuity.
And yes, I suppose the bike is my cannabis. If you accept the traditional characterization that cannabis is a “euphoric” drug, then I’m getting my euphoria these days on the bicycle. After an epic ride, I really do feel euphoric, even if I’m tired and the muscles ache. I’ve smoked some pot in days past, and favor its legalization if for no other reason than to stop screwing up the lives of millions of young people who get arrested for it, but for me personally, the magic weed doesn’t do much for me these days. The bike is a different matter. A good ride will definitely produce a euphoric feeling, and I often wish that I could just keep on riding.
The bicycle simply makes me feel and look better. Even a fairly short ride will give me a warm glowy feeling. I suppose it results from the increased oxygen levels and the release of endorphins. Endorphins are described as “endogenous morphine” which is “released during exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food consumption, love, and orgasm.” After a good ride, I feel like I have taken some wonderful, perfect tranquilizer, but without any drug overhead. I have the proverbial “sense of well-being” while being acutely aware of my muscles and body. I have lost so much weight that I had to have my suits taken in. In the past couple of months, I have had several people, including doctors, tell me that I look “great” and it has been some time since I last heard those words. That’s great for the self-image. The bike is good for the body and the mind.
Yet, there is a downside to this rosy scenario. There are a few days when I cannot ride. Either the weather is just too foul (I don’t ride on ice or in thunderstorms which threaten hail), or I have business or social commitments which preclude a bike ride. On these days I go into serious bicycle withdrawal. Even on these dark days, I don’t despair because I know the clouds will go away; the ice will melt and my faithful two-wheeled medicine cabinet will be waiting for me in the garage, eager for another adventure and another chance to make me healthier.
We have been adopted by a big black cat. I named her “Gabby” because she talks a lot and is always ready to express her opinion on anything. As to breed, she is what I learned to call a “Persian” although she does not have the flat face of the current crop of over-bred Persian cats. She is a beautiful animal and very affectionate. I don’t really know where Gabby came from. She began hanging around our house, but she was very wary of us and would seldom come up to us. We began to put a bowl of water on the porch because she seemed to be hanging out around our front porch a lot. One night in the fall of 2013 I invited her to come into the house because the weather was really foul. She came in for a while, but it was obvious that she was nervous in our house. I guessed that she could smell traces of our dogs who used to live here. Months went by and she began to come around more. One evening I let her in and she stayed the night. The next day Marian bought her a cat box and some cans of food.
For a couple of months Gabby would come and stay a couple of days with us and then disappear for a couple of days. I didn’t really like that, but I didn’t really want a full time pet either. I had done fifteen years with the dogs and I was tired of being responsible for animals. If she wanted to visit, I would feed her, but if she wanted to leave, that was OK too. I didn’t want to be tied down to a pet. Eventually, it became clear that Gabby wanted to stay with us. I don’t know if her original human moved away or what, but our home had become her home. At the same time, I began to think of her more as being “my cat” even though my attitude about a full time pet hadn’t changed. She’s a prowler. No matter how much I feed her, she still wants to go out and prowl the alley. When the weather gets stormy, I worry about her being out and getting cold and wet. I worry about her being hit by a car crossing the street or prowling the alley. I worry about her catching a mouse that’s already been poisoned. I lost a couple of cats that way a long time ago. I wish she would just stay in the house where I could take care of her and keep her safe from all of the perils of the alley. That’s not who she is. She will stay in for hours but the time comes when she needs to go out to hunt birds and mice. Trying to keep her inside just doesn’t work. She’s miserable. I have to accept that about her. She came to us as a free agent and that’s the deal; I can’t change the rules.
We had a dog that shared a lot of Gabby’s karma, Thor. He appeared on our front porch one frigid January night, injured and dirty. Boss Dog, Lucky, accepted him and he became a part of our family. Thor was a beautiful German Shepherd who grew to 120 lbs. He was wonderful around people, but around other dogs, except Boss Dog, he was Murder, Inc. I paid some vet bills before it sunk into me that Thor could never be off a leash, ever. We tried to train him to behave better, but it didn’t work and he spent his life tightly controlled because he just couldn’t be trusted around other dogs. He would fight and he always won. We adjusted because we loved him, and Lucky, also a GSD, loved him as if he were Lucky’s own puppy.
Experience has taught me that acceptance is one of life’s great lessons. Whether it is cats, dogs or people, we have to learn to accept people as they are. This was a hard one for me. When I was young, I knew how everybody ought to be living their lives and who they needed to be. I still spend a portion of each Sunday morning telling people how they ought to act. I guess old habits die hard. The difference for me is that I have learned to accept people, dogs, and cats as they are. If I can help them live their lives, that’s great, but I don’t waste time trying to make them live up to my expectations. With our buddy, Thor, we loved him so we accepted the way he was and made adjustments. We didn’t approve of everything he did, but we loved him and figured out ways to make it work.
Love is the secret sauce. We never really live up to each other’s expectations, but when we love, we can accept and receive acceptance. That brings a lot of peace to our lives. And who knows? If this acceptance thing really catches on, one of these days I might even get around to accepting myself.