Home: refuge or prison?

At the time, I was young and saw, but didn’t really feel, the tragedy. Today, I see a tragic pattern, understand and feel too well why my neighbor left us.

Envision, if you will, a young suburb. In the days before we coined the term ex-urb, freshly paved streets and newly minted split levels spilled onto too-small century-old roads. General stores and local suppliers doing better than ever because the new retail infrastructure that would bankrupt them is still in the future. Schools still smelling of fresh paint and floor wax. All the new residents with jobs, families and loyalties somewhere else. Neighbors were nice to have, nice to talk about, but there really wasn‘t a lot of unscheduled time for another unaffiliated loyalty to evolve. Read More

Home was a basement and a city’s sun

Mrs. B loved her sun – we’d squint and find somewhere else to go as the hot western sunset aimed down the narrow alley into our eyes. She’d come out from her basement kitchen to absorb its beam, silhouetting a cross on the concrete wall behind her. Depending on what she was wearing, it occasionally looked like her shadow followed her with angel wings of its own.

My front steps in those days before window air conditioners. Mrs. B’s were down an alley to the left.

Inside, a framed calendar page showed a thatched cottage and colorful garden from a place she called home. But when we asked, “Isn’t this your home, here?” She smiled, hugged us and said, “Of course it is. I picked this place just so I could be with each one of you.

We had no idea what she was talking about – and really didn’t care. She was our friend’s mom, the building super’s nice wife, the lady with the funny accent that didn’t quite fit in to the neighborhood mix of Irish and American English. And those words that didn’t mean the same to her: A jumper was what we did from the tall wall to the sidewalk, not what we wore. Our families told us she was a war bride, whatever that meant. To us, it meant that she grew up far away and that Mr. B brought her home from the army, like our dads brought home green coats and blankets. Read More

How do you draw the sound of snow?

It stops falling with little taps before it melts on parts of my coat. Just sits and collects on other parts. Simply touches and sits on branches around me. Becomes one with unfrozen stream water. Bundled up and walking the traces of a trail through a Rocky Mountain forest, my clothes are too thick to let me feel the magic that’s falling. It’s not silent when it touches me. But there’s no other sound. No wind, no sky. Just an all-encompassing peace. How do we draw the sound of what we see, what we feel, what we want to feel, of who we are?

There’s a song here. A melody I haven’t heard before and won’t hear again – each snowflake is its own never-repeating note. And as with all music, half of all its melody and meaning is between the lines. Do we know how to listen? To quietly punctuated silence?

Lyrics? Not in a language I know. Words are the jello mold we use to squeeze our experiences and emotions into a form we can feed to others. Is it possible to share rather than feed? Can we, do we, share without words?

I look up. Feel the snow on my face. Take off my gloves, feel it on my hands. Palms and backs respond in their own ways. The back of my hand seems to have less feeling.

I’m sampling and scoring the notes by feel, by rhythm. There’s no time signature I recognize. I’ll need to move from human time to tree time, or maybe snow time. I’ve done it before, and it’s magic.

A nearby tree just shed a load of powder from her branches. She’s still shaking like a dog shedding water. Now it’s safe under there, but I won’t hug or destroy her peace. It’s nice simply standing under her protection. Her aura of slowing drifting snow enhances the sky borne flakes.

I’m in a sensory concert hall. And just like any other concert, I need to surround myself with the musical experience. But it’s hard turning off all those other thoughts that play competing sounds all day long, in the multiple formats our task- and people-centered brains have become addicted to.

I need to spend more time here.


M-16’s, minefields and bar fights, oh my!

We’re all tourists and travelers of one sort or another – through life. On this planet. We share our journeys with many people. My life has taken me to wonderful places where I’ve spent wonderful times with wonderful people. To me, experience is more important than all the views and all the stuff that winds up cluttering our homes. To borrow the name of a show I was in years ago, You Can’t Take It With You.

If we’re all tourists, how are we different? There are many people who are happy and satisfied exploring their own lives and immediate environments. Then there are the clichéd tourists who exaggerate national stereotypes [insert your favorite story here]. These are the voyeurs who look without seeing, observing but not absorbing the lives of others through a lens they’ve paid to look through. Whether they’re pointing and loudly talking about the locals as if they weren’t there in another country or in a city neighborhood in their own land, they treat neighborhoods, houses and residents like museums and shops that are there for their amusement, much like a holographic television show. Read More

Where nobody knows your name – or wants to.

There’s a bar in a town along the gringo trail where, if you’ve spent a few nights there over the years, the owner/bartender/every-other-job-doer knew your drink, your favorite snacks and where you’ve been. But he never asked your name – nor did anyone else at the bar. But we knew most of each other’s stories – and there was rarely too much exaggeration because we’d all been to most of the places and occasionally bumped into each other a country or so away.

I stopped in when I was passing through town a few years ago. The food was still mediocre. The beer warm, as usual. If he knows you’re a beer drinker, it would be open on the bar by the time you get there. Really doesn’t matter what it is – Gallo, Brahva, or Dorada. You’ll get whatever he’s got in stock, which means whatever he could pay the deliveryman for that day. You really don’t want the wine. It’s worse than cough syrup. But we kept coming back for the owner, a local guy with a wonderful sense of humor who never forgot a face and carried on simultaneous conversations in at least four languages. Fluently. He knows which patrons don’t like the local dogs at their tables and which ones make sure the dogs don’t starve. Oh, and there’s the internet. Let me re-phrase that. A Wi-Fi sign. Newcomers had already paid for their beer when they got around to asking for the password. He gave them some random digits and, when they found nothing happening, told them the router must be down tonight [same as every other night]. Read More

Lost my passport – and had a great day!

I lost my passport.   (Insert long string of appropriate words here. They follow the Macarena-like search of every pocket on your body and in your bag, while you’re in an elbow-to-elbow-crowded launch crossing a lake, about an hour from where you probably left it.)

Have you ever had that gut feeling you should pay attention to something, ignore it and then feel the shit after it hits the fan? Passport security is something I’ve learned to take seriously over the years. So, when I arrived at Las Pyramides in Guatemala last month, I asked them to keep my passport in their safe, even though I knew I’d be in a very secure environment. There was that feeling in the back of my mind that I’ve learned to pay attention to. I retrieved my passport the day I was leaving.

Anyway, after a good breakfast at my favorite restaurant (https://www.jpmaney.com/private-selves/), I said goodbye to everyone and went down to the dock. Halfway across Lake Atitlan that little voice whispered, no, shouted at me, “Where’s your passport?” I got off my water-borne chicken bus at the next town. When I told the driver why I was leaving early, he didn’t charge me for the distance we’d gone. I waited 25 minutes for a launch going back where I came from [and another too-long time on the water, wanting each stop to go faster, followed by the walk from the pier]. Read More

When – and how – does a tourist become a traveler?

A few years ago I was painting the exterior of my three-story house. Leaning sideways off my two-story ladder, trying to see how far I could stretch before needing to climb back down to move the ladder, I heard an engine idling on the street behind me. I turned to see a hotel van full of Japanese businessmen. Through their translator, I answered their questions. The most important one? How much was I being paid to work on a Sunday? When I told them it was my house, they pointed and chattered among themselves before the translator asked if they could take my picture. If I’d been thinking fast enough, I would have given them each some scrapers and brushes and put them to work. To me, they were tourists – voyeurs who look without seeing, observing but not absorbing the lives of others through a lens they’ve paid to look through. Read More

Sharing our public and private selves

Guatemala. There’s a couple who’ve been passing through town for the past few days. They seem like normal, active, sun-weathered people, indefinably aged somewhere between their early 50’s and healthy 70’s. We’ve seen each other in our wanderings, with the usual, “Hola, buenas dias/tardes” and a nod before going our respective ways. Saw them again this morning in my favorite local coffee shop/restaurant – great food, better owner, and fantastic selection of classical and opera on the sound system. After exchanging acknowledging nods I went back to checking email, reading the paper and enjoying my meal. Anyway, in a place where the conversation is usually in at least two, more likely 3-4 different languages, I picked up on their American accents when they took a table just a couple away from mine.

I couldn’t help but overhear. The mundane: deciding whether to go to a nearby town or not; making plans for the day’s walk. The personal: “Let’s see how I feel when we get back.” I’ll admit it was hard to get back to my paper. Next, bits and pieces about her multiple complicated ailments, with names I can’t pronounce and couldn’t begin to spell. She’s going in for surgery [again] and this time will [1] be knocked out and [2] take 3-4 weeks to recover, the longest time she’s ever had in her history of cuttings. This is her last trip before the surgery, but she wants to restore her quality of life. The quality she’s come to expect through the years. Apparently there are some age-related organic issues, as well. Her words expressed a matter-of-fact confidence in the whole process. Her voice said anything but. Read More

My Book of Mormons – surviving a visit to OZ

After years of just changing planes in Salt Lake City’s airport, I finally ventured into town. It felt good, driving into town after nearly a month of wandering in the desert with just my tent. Beautiful scenery and a great light rail system. My frequent-sleeper points got me a free room w-a-y out in the burbs, but hey, it had a hot shower, a nice mattress and a coffee-maker that I didn’t have to light a fire for. And…it was less than five walking minutes from a station and a train that got me downtown in 20 minutes for $2.50 round trip. [It also goes directly from downtown to the airport.]

Went for a walk downtown, seemed like I was the only one there, but it was excusable, seeing as how it was Friday around 5:00 p.m. and the temps were nearing triple digits. I asked directions a couple of times. For the most part, people gave me the wrong information.

But they were very friendly and polite. Read More

Is American Youth Wasted? – 4

What’s the matter with kids today? Or should the question be, “What’s the matter with their elders?”

[With apologies to Bye Bye Birdie]

Compared to their parents and elders, kids are early adaptors. That’s life.

The newest music, the newest dances, the newest whatever. Something to give them a feeling of independence from the authority figures who’ve been directing their entire lives. Would we rather breed robots who goose-step to their parents’ drum – or individuals who, if we’re lucky, will respect our experience and opinions, but won’t agree with us on everything?

In the 50’s and 60’s telephones preceded rock-n-roll – but they both came together when Conrad Birdie went off to serve his country.

Today – it’s social media. As soon as their parents began using Facebook, kids moved on to other media. Read More