Ghost Steps

Buddy pulled at the leash towards the yard dogs at the house on Broadway. There were two in the yard, a shepherd mix that barked angrily and silent husky that wagged his tail as if he were friendly. Buddy’s tail wagged, but Joe didn’t want him to get too close to the angry shepherd.

They walked past the yard dogs, toward the river, Buddy sniffing and peeing. Joe was in no hurry. They came to what Joe always thought of as ghost steps, the stone steps up to a grass covered yard where a house had stood sometime in the past. The steps were the only thing left after the house had been torn down, going up to nothing. On the steps a young woman sat sobbing. Around her were several half full garbage bags and she had one of the big blue and white soda cups from the gas station up the street that Joe had heard meant she was working. 

As Joe got closer he could see the track marks and she looked as if she hadn’t bathed for a while. Joe imagined the bags held everything she owned. She was sobbing loudly but spoke clearly when she asked “Hey, do you have a light?”

Joe knew that she was initiating a sales pitch. She had a way of making fire, either to heat the spoon or light a cigarette.

She was younger than Joe’s daughter and he spoke to her as he would to his daughter. “No honey, I sure don’t.”

“Ok, thanks,” she said, both her questions answered.

She continued to sob and Joe and Buddy kept walking along Broadway towards the river. 

Accordion Instructor

Quite some time ago now I came across the youtube channel for one of the hate preachers that celebrated the Orlando Massacre when a guy opened fire in a gay club killing 49 people. I have been a part of some very male environments, athletic teams, the military, the fire department, and have been around for some homophobic rants against gay men. I really don’t get it. I can’t understand why a straight guy would fear or be angered by a gay guy. If there were unwanted advances, I could understand, but I have never been approached by a gay guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer. But I can guess at why some guys get so angry about homosexuality, and crusaders generally crusade against themselves. That is my observation.

This hate pastor has a church in Arizona. He calls himself an Independent Baptist and uses the King James Bible only. As with all denominations that claim to follow the christian bible he has decided his interpretations are the final word. Really though, he is mostly a conservative baptist that goes a little overboard on the gay stuff and is hung up on “hard preaching.” There were a whole bunch of christian pastors saying similar stuff when the club got shot up. Religious people are quite often hateful.  Kinda funny to me because he himself seems a little sweet. Not that I find that offensive, I am just saying.

He is not the greatest preacher, this hate guy from Arizona. I like a good sermon preached well.  Not believing it makes no difference, it is theater, art. Billy Graham was a good preacher. Billy was able to communicate a goodwill and a salvation message that didn’t get a guy with anger in him to want to get up and punch him in the nose. This guy from Arizona can be a mocker and a screamer, beating on the pulpit and screeching like a child. Even if he had something to say he still needs to be slapped.

You can find a good deal of anti-gay stuff in the Old Testament and he uses that quite a bit. In the New Testament Jesus is not recorded as directly addressing homosexuality but Paul talks about it. Paul has always seemed like a whack job to me, persecutes christians, makes a 180 and becomes a christian, relegates women to second class status and denies himself sex. All these things are big red flags to me. The christian bible does say homosexuality is wrong, but it also says gossiping is wrong and slavery is ok and spends much more time talking about gossip and slavery than about homosexuality. There is quite a bit of stuff in the christian bible that reflects the bronze age culture that produced it and there is no getting around the fact that those cultures were very oppressive to certain parts of the population. We have come some ways from those cultures, then to now.

But now this hate pastor’s sons have left text trails talking about making girls bleed during sex and choking them while doing it. The pastor is trying to play it off as just kids talking stupid, but one of the kids is 18 and this is some pretty rough stuff. Also, some of the qualifications from the bible for a pastor or elder are that he “must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion.” Dissipation is also translated as wildness or debauchery. This guy won’t step down though and he will quote the Old Testament where is says gays should die but not where it says unruly children should be taken to the edge of town and stoned to death. 

Everybody picks and chooses what they want to believe about this Jesus guy. I bet that if the 1st century Middle Eastern Jew this pastor calls savior, unwashed and ungroomed and reflecting the culture he was a part of preaching the message he really brought not the one it has become, were to walk into his 21st century American church it would not be too long before he was firmly asked to leave. All different religions as practiced have gods that believe as the participants believe.

Lately I am not seeing where religion benefits humanity as a whole. As a small social group I can think of nothing better. Being a part of a vibrant church can be wonderful, singing and listening to ideas and usually with a communal meal afterwards. If it functions as a family a church can be glorious. But so often now religion is a vehicle for divisiveness and hate. For all the good it does, I can’t count it as overall being a good thing for humanity. We seem hardwired for religion, humans that is. I don’t think the species will evolve past it. There will always be hypocritical religious leaders like this hate preacher from Arizona. I feel as if people are less a part of something bigger than they have been in my lifetime for certain, and from what I can tell, history as well. People no longer think of “us” or “we.” Truth though, I didn’t always feel this way. But I do this summer for sure. I could be wrong. But it seems the world needs more music and singing and breaking of bread and less hate preaching.

****

Somewhere there is an accordion instructor going, “about damn time!” 

*****

I am not happy with the way the entries are going, I am going to attempt to present things differently in the future.

****

Uh, by the way. “Stranger in a Strange Land” has been a bit of a disappointment so far. The concept and writing is excellent. In the story Heinlein is able to present some pretty heady arguments about human nature and fit them in the story. His writing is full of references to all manner of art and academic pursuit. The title is from the Old Testament, from Exodus,  

“Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.”


 There was a mention to Diogenes and lots of other stuff too. But there is a strong characterization of women as weak and subservient objects to be desired and to be ruled, judged by looks and presented as the much weaker sex. You can relate that, I guess, to the idea of a man giving a woman to Moses. What did Zipporah think of the transaction? I don’t recall this so much from 40 years ago, but I am sort of embarrassed for Heinlien as I read. I might not be able to finish it. Sad to me as I recalled his books fondly. After reading some of this I remember things in “Orphans of the Sky” about a colonization ship gone astray, where husbands rule wives with beatings. Lots of unpleasant stuff. Of course, in this 21st century George R.R. Martin has 13 year old Daenerys Targaryen raped in his “Game of Thrones.”  Strange to think.

Visitation and Library

I am going to the visitation for my co-worker today, in the early evening. I tend to shy away from funerals at this point in my life. It seems to me that a funeral doesn’t really address the dead anymore, but rather ideas and wishes that weren’t much on the mind of the person being celebrated. A visitation though, you can hear fun and mischievous stories that make you smile and laugh. My observations might be way off and have to do more with my feelings rather than funeral services. I am always open to being wrong about a thing. I like a visitation though, you can go tell the family you grieve with them as well. I think that brings comfort, to you and the family.

I won’t know anyone there except maybe people from the Chess Club. I don’t know many of them either. The members don’t really get together on a regular basis. There is a certain camaraderie among the staff at the club itself and the people involved in the video production at the club, but instructors and the scholastic side rarely have opportunity to get together, pandemic or no. Though I spent many hours talking online with the man to be memorialized today, I only physically met him twice. A strange sort of relationship that is no less important than more ordinary kinds. 

*****

I downloaded a PDF of “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It is not really a Kindle edition but navigable on the kindle. The print is too small and I read too fast to have to adjust each individual page. It is bothersome. I just checked and there is a paperback copy at my branch of the St Louis  Library. I will go see if it is a larger format, the small paperbacks are hard for me to read comfortably. I will do it but I don’t like it.

The branch of the SLPL I go to is a beautiful old building standing as a testament to an older time. Since I have dedicated myself to a focused reading strategy after graduation I have found the library to be an excellent resource. The 21st century still has need of public access to information. I do all my printing there now, and I see all manner of people using the computer terminals they have there and the WIFI access. For a certain cross section of the population it is the only resource available for the internet. Can you imagine doing a job search or filling an application on a phone? Middle class, lower and upper, take certain things for granted.

Anyway, I have read a great deal of Heinlein over the years.  A lot of popular Sci Fi is just adventure stories. Heinlein is too, but with some reflection as well. I have not read one of his books for 20 years at least, except maybe “Orphans of the Sky.” I am quite curious to see how I will react to the work. I know for certain parts of “Starship Troopers” I disagree with completely, dimly recalled though the story is. “Orphans of the Sky” is now a story that can be translated to the big screen, CGI is now capable of rendering the characters. I will give “Stranger” a go. Lots of times books I read in my youth no longer appeal to me.

It is a thing of great interest to me how my perceptions of books change as I change. Clearly the material is the same, the marks on the paper. How I feel about is never the same though. I have been pretty happy with some contemporary fiction that I am pretty certain I would not have appreciated in times past. It is fun to see if some of the stuff I liked in my youth means as much to me now.

*****

I am pretty sure this cognitive funk I am in right now will pass soon. Even to write this little bit has been a struggle. I can feel my mind freeing up again though. The beloved Aunt Roe says I have to take stuff in for a time before I can pour myself out again. I am staying busy.

Self Portrait in the Library

Abraham and Isaac

This is not a fun entry. You might want to skip it. I titled it as I did because it is a toss up for me which is a worse story in the old testament, a man killing his son at the request of a god, or a god killing a man’s family over a bet with a devil. I couldn’t find a catchy way to use “Job” so there it is.

******

When I played my last football game in High School I thought I was good enough to play at the next level. I received no invitations from any colleges despite being an All-Okaw Valley Conference fullback. I was not tall or big, I was quick, but not fast, tough, but not a wrecking ball on the football field. I was just an ok player on a pretty good team. When I got to college I met some guys that hung out with a Fellowship of Christian Athletes on the U of I Campus and there were some real D-1 football players that went to the meetings. 

That was the group I thought I should be a part of and I spent more and more time with them. I went to prayer meetings and read the christian bible. I got baptized and carried around a NASB Bible, rejected my friends, alienated my Grandparents and my Father before he died and my Mother too. But time went on and I fell away from the FCA after a couple of years. I had read “The Naked Ape” in High School and Morris and science made more sense than bible verses even though I really wanted to believe them. I had felt a part of a group but I couldn’t live as they did. So I left. There was a girl involved as well. Biology will not be denied.

After I left, the group morphed into a Pentecostal Church with fledgling satellite churches on either coast. The driving force of the college athletes pushed them to strive harder than most groups, it was almost a competition to the leadership. They tried so hard and earnestly to be a 1st century church with gifts of the spirit, tongues and prophesy and healing and so on. Most of the parishioners were college-aged when the group started and they began to marry and have children. I would see them around town before I left Champaign. They had become quite different from the sons and daughters sent off to college just a few years before, more out of touch with reality as time went by. There was no evil intent, they honestly wanted to serve their god as they understood him but they were just a group of overachieving kids with no leadership. For a while they thrived as a progressive Pentecostal church.

It ended after a member on the west coast decided not to get medical attention for his sick son. The wife of one of the elders thought the 10 year old kid was diabetic, but the Holy Spirit had told the man his son had been masturbating and unless the man could get his son to repent he would continue to be sick.The man and the U of I football players that had now become the elders beat the child until he made a confession, but he died anyway, emaciated and badly bruised and suffering in front of his mother and the elders of the church. Afterwards the elders laid hands on the body to try to raise him from the dead.

I was at least 5 years removed from that event, but I knew some of the people involved. I did not know the child or his mother and father. When I read of the events in the newspaper I had that chilled feeling, I was stunned. Lives were ended, lives were ruined, good intentions and earnest belief yielded death and destruction. The Father and two of the elders did jail time. The group was shattered.

Now to a believer, their god does not fail to reward the faithful. To a follower of Jesus called the Christ what happened to that young boy, the diabetes, the beatings, the false confession, the death, these things could not be the intent of their god. Most Christians would say the people involved were evil. And yet, I knew these people when the group started. Their sole intent was to do the will of their god.

We would shout the words in Isaiah,

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

It would be easy to dismiss these events as “not of god” and yet, how could an earnest seeker go so astray? These were people who studied the Christian Bible daily and who had tried to follow their god in every aspect of their lives with the Holy Spirit and the scriptures as their guide. Had the devil devoured them? How could their god not have protected them? If their god gives them the understanding and they work out their salvation with fear and trembling, how could they have been rewarded with such devastation? More likely than some disconnect between a god and his creation, is that the creation makes the god and there is no supernatural being guiding events.

I see now that once faith is the understanding for how the world works there is a disconnect with reality. If in your understanding of this world you insert things for which there is no evidence you have made possible for any position to be taken, for any behavior to occur. That is not to say science can answer all questions. As finite beings, we might not be asking the right questions. Maybe some questions shouldn’t be asked at all, not like the should be prohibited, just that answering them wouldn’t explain anything. I think one way humanity can be explained as is simply a biological process to send genetic material forward in time. I don’t know that there is any purpose to this process. It may mean nothing. But as a part of the process, a member of humanity, it means everything.

That little child might have been a father and even a grandfather by now had he lived. Sometimes I wonder how the Mother and Father went on with their lives. They had to know how wrong they were at some point and what they did to their son. I try not to think of the coerced confession and trying to raise him from the dead. I am sorry to have written this here. I have no ill will towards any that believe in a god, I am sure it is a comfort, but I simply advise caution. Some mistakes in this life can be fixed. Some cannot.

Solid

‘There’ll be no bombs there,’ he’d said, ‘and the houses won’t break like
these do.’ I wasn’t sure if he’d meant the Lego houses or the real houses,
and then it saddened me when I realised that Sami had been born into a
world where everything could break. Real houses crumbled, fell apart.
Nothing was solid in Sami’s world.

Lately on my morning walk I talk to my brother on the phone. Sometimes I miss the reverie of being alone with just my thoughts and the dogs. My brother is a gentle soul though, and means no harm to any, so talking with him while I walk is a good thing. It is good, I think, to try to see things from a different perspective now and again. 

We talk politics and world events so there is a lot to talk about. We are both left-leaning non-joiners. Which means that even though we will likely vote democrat we don’t describe ourselves as democrats. Any group that will have us as a member is suspect. (Groucho). A couple of years ago I would have told you my brother and I were nothing alike. The last time we were together physically we were asked if we were twins. Now I am beginning to think we are more alike than I thought, not completely different ideologies in the same container. Maybe dealing with this world in this packaging has given us similar views because of our interactions.  That doesn’t seem to be so far-fetched when you consider how different races talk about how the general population perceives them initially on their skin color alone. Perhaps my brother and I share experiences related to how the world interprets our outward appearance. Still, I am the sane one. I am pretty sure of that.

The quote is from “The Beekeeper of Aleppo.” So far it is quietly magnificent. This Christy Lefteri knows what she is doing. I am not quite half way through. My beloved Aunt Roe suggested the book to me. My brother and I talked to the point of the quote this morning. There is confusion in America now, but we still have it very easy. Ok, there have been riots in some areas and there is a pandemic happening, but bombs don’t fall on us and we don’t have to leave our home because to stay is to die. You can still count on most things. It might get bad soon enough, I hope not. Right now it is not terrible.

Biological Accident

For some reason my ability to concentrate has taken a huge hit this last week or 10 days or so. I can’t find a cause, nothing until yesterday seemed to be amiss. The first indicator was my chess rating on lichess. I peaked around 1730 and then I just couldn’t anticipate a single thing my opponents were doing, could see the simplest of tactics. It was as if a switch had been flipped. I dropped down under 1600 and began to get really frustrated. My reading ability seems fine, I finished a  book I liked,  “All the Castles Burned,” and a couple of other things. I couldn’t puzzle out  the meaning of some of the story elements in “Castles” but that was in keeping with the way I process stories. Sometimes I have to allow my brain to ruminate on them a while. I don’t think in a straight line. My writing seems flat and uninspired though. I persevered despite the crap I was producing – shitty first drafts and all that bullshit. 

In my head I am still the same guy I was in my 20s even though empirically by every measure that is clearly not the case. I am generally unhappy with getting older but I am beginning to realize physical stuff is less important than the ability to think and reason. It seems there is more loss to come as well. I would not care to slowly fade away, lose my sense of self. Euginides describes this so very well in “Middlesex” when he wrote

“Lefty was confronting the possibility that consciousness was a biological accident. Though he’d never been religious, he realized now that he’d always believed in the soul, in a force of personality that survived death. But as his mind continued to waver, to short-circuit, he finally arrived at the cold-eyed conclusion, so at odds with his youthful cheerfulness, that the brain was just an organ like any other and that when it failed he would be no more.”

I try not to mourn at this idea. It is the way of things. What is said at the end of the Monty Python song they play at British funerals? “You come from nothing and you go back to nothing, What have you lost? Nothing!” 

Thing is though, a guy from the Chess Club, a young guy, 33, died unexpectedly yesterday. I don’t know the details and it doesn’t matter now, but the sense of loss is palpable. Our digital class times were the same and I would shadow his class when I had no students. When he had time we would join in google meet, either his classroom or mine, and talk, mostly about strategies for teaching chess, but about quite a bit more as well. I felt more of a bond than that of a co-worker. 

The email notification from the club came a couple of hours after I noticed he wasn’t in his digital classroom yesterday. I didn’t think too much about him not being in his class, things do happen. I didn’t think he was dead though, I didn’t think I wouldn’t have the chance to get to know him better. The email said they did CPR and he was pronounced at St Mary’s. Of course, that is just a sentence to most people, I relived the whole emergency scene and  frenetic moments that come with a pulseless and apneic human.  I was thinking it could have been a city ambulance and Engine 22 or 31 that responded. I had not thought on the confusion and the immediacy of that sort of event for a while. I had not thought of the grief of the loved ones and the sweaty lifeless bodies and the sirens and the rush to the hospital even knowing the likely outcome. He was so young, they would have worked it as hard as they could to give him a chance. But no. It seems he went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

Of course, now the deficit in my thinking has a cause. I spent yesterday with that chaotic mind that comes after a death of someone you know unable to focus on much. The shock of death is more familiar than I like it to be. It seems sometimes that some burdens never get lighter until we will put them down forever. It is the way of things, and I will try to find a way to deal with it in a positive manner. I need the ability to focus though, it is becoming more important as time goes on. Biological accident or not, my thoughts are me and I don’t want to lose myself. Everything ends, in the fullness of time or too soon, but to continue as only part of yourself seems – unfair.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys

I have a memory from my youth. I have tried to get it on paper many times but just have not been able to do it to my satisfaction. I think it would make a good short story. This is just a vague outline of what the story should be.

*****

I had run out of money to continue my education, broken up with my girlfriend and was almost literally starving. It was a frightening time. Dead broke and hungry and alone in Carbondale Illinois in the early 80s. I had nowhere to go back to, all family ties were severed by then.

I answered every ad in the local newspaper I was even remotely qualified for, that was the only source of job listings then. It is kinda funny, I never considered restaurants. No one I knew, family or friends, worked in restaurants. That would have at least provided some food, but I didn’t even think about it. My life story might have been quite different. 

Anyway, one ad in the paper said to show up for an interview in the evening and gave an address. It was listed as phone sales and when I got there it was an empty old store front, a corner store with all the racks for merchandise taken out. You could see where the aisles had been by the wear and discoloration in the linoleum. There were a bunch of folding tables with phones and cords and wires spaghettied all over the place. Maybe a dozen people were at the tables calling numbers from sections of phone books reading loudly from a mimeographed script. 

This is the part of the description where a lot of authors use the word “cacophony” to describe the sound of all the people calling and reciting the scripts at the same time. I don’t use that word when I speak so I won’t use it here. It was loud and busy.

The guy running it was a sleazy looking little guy. He looked like the young version of the old homeless, toothless guy with a dirty beard that you see in rough areas. Like one of those kids from when you were growing up who seemed as if they would never amount to anything and who left high school sophomore year. You would see around town for years later in questionable company and might just nod at them. They would just get rougher looking as time passed and finally you just wouldn’t see them anymore.. This guy still had a bit of youth left though, before the drinking and meth (crystal in these days) and the hard life left him a husk outside of a gas station or by the dumpsters behind a 7-11. He had a lupine look to him, as if searching for some despicable thing to do. In his eyes was a fierceness, a warning glitter, a certain menace. 

He sat near the door with a chubby girl that was not as cute as she thought she was. She was almost a ginger wearing a tube top and had nice boobs but you could see stretch marks purple against the white skin of her belly. She carefully wrote my name and phone number, but no other job related information in a little memo book and the wolf guy stayed quiet while she worked. When she was done she looked at him for approval. Then he gave me a little spiel about what was going on here and called a scary-looking guy over to show me how to work the phones. The scary guy gave me a mimeographed sheet and a section of a phone book and showed me how to work the phone.  I was hired for just walking in the door. I think the pay was 3 bucks an hour and it was supposed to be in cash. 

I worked for the next two hours dialing numbers from the phone book and reciting the script about some children’s fundraiser, a concert for children. The headliner was Gary Lewis, the son of Jerry Lewis and supposed to happen months in the future at a movie house in town. The people you talked to could buy tickets for themselves or for less fortunate children to attend. They had to send checks to a P.O Box care of “Gary Lewis Children’s Benefit.” Around 9 the wolf guy sent us home and said come back at 7 the next day.

I was so miserable that my life had come to this and decided to not work this bullshit and find a real job. But I went back to the storefront the next night to get the money for the two hours I had worked. I told Wolfie I wasn’t going to work anymore but wanted my pay for the night before. He tried to make out that he had never seen me before and didn’t owe me anything but the chubby girl said, “no, he was here, look, that is his name right there.” He gave her a look with murder in it and she flinched. I wasn’t backing down and finally he said “I usually don’t do payroll till the end of the month, drive my friend home and I will give you your money now.”

I should have told him to fuck himself and pay me, but it seemed like no big deal. The friend turned out to be the scary-looking dude, and it ended up he was going to the next town over from Carbondale. On the way he told me Wolfie had been running this benefit scam for a long time now in different towns across the midwest. He said there was no benefit, after a couple of weeks Wolfie would cash what checks he had received and leave town without paying the workers. The scary dude told me the chubby girl was the mother of his baby. They had been traveling with and working with Wolfie for almost a year now, they had answered an ad in Arkansas and just went with him when he moved on. As we were pulling up to where he was headed he said “That guy has been fucking my woman like I ain’t even here. He sends me to do shit that don’t even need done and when I come back I can smell they been fucking. One of these days I am going to kill them both.” He shut the door surprisingly gently and I drove away and didn’t look back.

*****

I really lived that story. It happened a lot like that. There was more, the chubby girl thought I might have been interested in her, Wolfie had her head swelled. She giggled and smiled at me with terrible teeth. The scary dude smoked my cigarettes while we drove and told me a story about how he fought a guy and got knocked down a dozen times and how finally the guy he was fighting gave up “cause I ain’t gonna kill you cause you won’t quit.” I had to stop for gas and he hit me up for beer money but I turned him down and it created a lot of tension in the car, like I should have paid him in beer for the stories he told me. I found a real job not too long after that. It was a dark time.

*****

Post Script – Google docs didn’t care for “spaghettied,” at least not the way I spelled it. It kept correcting to “spaghetti.” When I looked it up Wiktionary said “Verb. spaghetti (third-person singular simple present spaghettis, present participle spaghettiing, simple past and past participle spaghettied).” Apparently I used a past participle. Good to know.

Money Tree

For the second time in a week I got a half-dollar in change at a Quik Trip. I must have that look about me, like, “I’ll dump this coin fucking my drawer up on this old cash dude right here.” Seems strange to me somehow. I mean, most folks are using plastic, I get that. But there are still marginal folks with crumpled dollars getting malt liquor  2 by 4s that use cash, not just gray hairs in collared shirts.

I didn’t catch the look on the first guy earlier in the week who dropped one on me, but the girl who gave me a half dollar today looked at me for that nano-second to see if I would complain or ask for quarters. Seems strange that they are in circulation. I haven’t seen one in years. Maybe it is the pandemic.

There can be so much happening in an instant. Earlier in the week I knew when the weight of the coin hit my palm what it was. It has been a while, but a half dollar has that mass that announces it. Today it was the sound of it against the drawer and that specific clink against the other coins as the girl handed it to me. If she hadn’t given me that look I wouldn’t have thought much of it, but I knew she was just passing it along cause it got in the way in her drawer. I have the look of an easy mark I guess. 

I didn’t mind too much because I need coins for the Harper. On a whim one time I put a quarter where she would see it on the patio when her Mother dropped her off. She made such a fuss over finding it that I leave change for her every morning. She is pretty sure the coins come from the big maple next door, the money tree. The half dollar is a big coin and clearly more important than the other ones. Relative value is easy to explain because of the size and weight of the thing.

I am not sure if it is a good thing for her to get used to the idea of found money, but I have a memory of my Dad giving me the change that we heard bouncing around in the dryer. “Here, take this,” he would say, and give me the hot coins, “don’t tell your sister.” That is a happy memory for me. I hope the money tree is a happy memory for the Harper one day.

Walls of Time

I have been going to the Goodwill for as long as I can remember. It has to do with the search and the unpredictability of the venture. I always likened my Goodwill trips to a rat pushing a lever in a skinner box. Mostly the trips are a waste of time. But men’s short sleeve shirts are $3, kitchen appliances are $6, framed paintings are $8 and until last year most books were a buck. The bulk of the stuff there is crap. But there are some good finds as well. 

If I don’t have a particular item in mind I cruise the shirts, the pots and pans , the paintings and the books. I can be in and out quicker than 5 minutes. Usually I don’t find anything, but if I see something I think I might need or is a superlative value I get it now and not later. I found the apartment washer/dryer combo we have used in the country for the quarter of the price of a new one, we have used that for 15 years now. One time I came across a Genesis Weber gas grill for $50 bucks. It was crusted over with a generation of backyard barbeques and looked like junk but I thought it would clean up OK. Took me half a day but when I was done I had a pretty nice quality grill that will certainly last the rest of my life. If I had bought it new it would have cost over a grand.  

Once you have an idea of what kind of stuff is there you can be quite selective. I decorated my barn with framed artwork and odds and ends that I got at the Goodwill. I have some really crazy and terrible amateur artwork as well.  When I went back to college I went there for binders, they always have very good quality binders for cheap. I would use different colored ones for different classes. I know my methods are quite outdated. I made the Dean’s list every semester of my return after 40 years, so I must have been doing something right.

I recall when I was looking for binders I came across a photo album. Time was a well organized photo album was the rage, long before the scrapbook craze. I think scrapbooking is passe now as well. I remember the photo album because it had only three people in the pictures, an older woman and two adultish men, likely a mom and her sons. The pictures were from a generation ago, low rez, instamatic, off color, winter shots that had no snow and no green in them. She was haggard and looked worse for wear. The sons were poorly groomed with long sideburns, one in a leisure suit and the other a cheap fleece lined jacket popular in the 70s.

The whole album was filled with what looked like a couple rolls of film all taken on the same weekend. It made me sad to think someone had cleaned out a house somewhere and just dumped the albums with a bunch of other crap at the Goodwill. It didn’t even look like anyone had taken a picture here and there, that whoever cleaned out wherever the pictures came from had not a care for the memories in the albums. Three whole lives that no one seemed to care about.

Once I came across a small framed baby picture I thought was cute and would look good on some little surface in my barn. It was 50¢. When I got home I looked more closely at it and realized it was older than I thought it was. I opened it up the frame and looked at the back of the photo. There was a German Photography studio name printed on the back and a name and a date – 1899,  in a spidery script no longer seen in this century. I looked the name up and it was a woman that had passed away in St Louis in 1993 and had indeed been born in Germany. 

As with the album, here were memories someone had relinquished to oblivion for whatever reason. It is the photo of a sturdy baby girl that grew and lived for more than 90 years on this earth and yet whose photo had been relegated to the Goodwill.  Such is the way of things I guess. So many lives, so many stories and all to pass away. It is best not to think on this too much and appreciate the time we do have, the happy moments.