It Runs in the Family

When it comes to families, I was dealt a pretty solid hand.  I feel like my roots are rather terrific.

To begin with a quirk, there are suggestions that we might have been related to Catherine Howard.  I have no great desire to follow in those footsteps.  The collars alone… Plus, the thought of spending too much time around Henry the VIII concerns me.  And I dislike the idea of being beheaded.  However as far as, “have I got a family story to tell”, it holds up over time.

What I know for certain is that our ancestors came over in the same group of ships that brought over William Penn.  (I am not sure that Quakers can have a flotilla or a fleet.  Perhaps it was a gathering?) 

If you ever ask about my Christian background, I will quickly tell you that I am ninth generation Quaker.  I am a “Birthright Quaker”, if that term appeals to you.  I love that aspect of my family.  (The part where every single one of us know we will have to wear glasses one day balances it out somewhat.)  I have tried other churches.  Quakerism works best for me.  I just happened to be born into it.  One of my kin was among the first to start singing in church (rebel!).

The only downside to this is that the line may stop here.  Of my immediate family, only my mom and I call ourselves Quaker.  The Mennonites and the Methodists pulled in the others.  And that is fine. 

Part of me really wants there to be a tenth generation; keep the line going!  However, being childless at the moment, that hardly seems like a great reason to bring a kid into this world.  “Look, get good grades, be polite, but most importantly, get us to that lofty double-digit status, would ya?”  No, I think nine generations will suffice.

There is a new family revelation which is my current favorite.  Something I never expected but immediately became fascinated with.  It makes me laugh that I read several books on this person before I knew we had any shared history.  I already knew about this guy.  Now I am eager to keep learning more. 

Abraham Lincoln is my second cousin.

There are many caveats to this.  First off, he is my second cousin six times removed.  If we go back, his great-grandmother was ours.  Second off, I had absolutely nothing to do with this.  It helps keep me humble.  One cannot really brag about being related to someone when you cannot control who sired who over the centuries.  (Also, it gives me pause.  Two family members were leaders… and they were both murdered?  Well, that settles it.  No career in politics for me.)

It still makes me feel special.  During the stressful times at work, when I see people lashing out at each other, I have a new phrase that runs through my brain.  “You know what?  It is okay.  You are related to Lincoln.”

I understand that “God loves you” is a better phrase to have playing on a loop.  However I have heard that for decades and the Lincoln bit is new.  I am still relishing the fresh trivia.  And no, I do not think that Abraham Lincoln was perfect.  I do think that if you are looking for great people who tried to do good, he stands tall amongst many others.  I will probably always think of John Quincy Adams as the finest president.  Lincoln though, he is family, darn it.  We can have a tie.

Plus we have things in common.  We are tall.  We love to tell yarns.  And we both greatly benefit from facial hair.   

Then the temptation comes to rest on my laurels.  When civil unrest occurs and people start being jerks, I get a little worked up.  I want to yell, “Look, I am related to the Great Emancipator, my family helped give women a voice, and we gave up on slavery before it was popular.  What more do you want from me?”

In return, all someone would have to ask would be, “Okay, but what have you done to help others?”

I get stuck at that part.  Using royal blood might get you into high society.  Yet family connections will only get you so far when it comes to morality.  Eventually you have to stand on your own feet.

Some areas I have set myself apart from my family.  My grandparents did not let my parents watch movies.  They thought paying for one would support all the bad ones.  (I believe they made an exception for Gone with the Wind.)  I spent many years being paid to be a film projectionist.  I think they made their peace with it because I mostly showed documentaries.  I saw no need to tell them that I also screened six Harry Potter movies. 

No one else in my family needs a cat.  They all have three kids.  If the kids want pets, then they talk it out.  Me, I have no need for kids, but I cannot go more than two weeks without a cat. 

No one else in my family runs.  My grandparents would spend hours around the dinner table talking to God, reading from scripture, and bringing the family together to worship God.  I take myself outside.  Nature is where I see God the clearest.  Exercise is what calms me.  When I run in the quiet mornings, I feel God resetting me for the week ahead.  Then I go to church afterwards, once all the crap is out of my system.

I had an amazing foundation given to me.  I am not allergic to anything.  My grandparents all lived to be eighty-seven to ninety years old.  No matter what health I was born into, I cannot sit on the couch all day and eat nothing but potato chips.  I have to decide what to do with what I am given.

My family tree has always consisted of three trades.  Farmer, pastor, teacher; they all worked some combination of those three jobs.   I have done none of those.  My focus has always been on stories.  Barista, projectionist, comic shop guy; find me a job that revolves around stories and that is what I want to do.  Get people to tell me about their lives and let me collect engrossing tales.

I have no control over what my family passes down to me.  (Certainly not in the middle name department.  Ardella?  Loren?  Lissie?  Evalyn?  What were you doing?)  However I can take all the fine elements that they have contributed to me and try to follow along in my own way.  My specific branch of the family tree might stop here.  I can still try to be sturdy and keep growing as long as possible.     

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No Goose-Stepping Around It

I found a new side of myself this week.  Fair warning:  it is not a part of me that I like.  If you have an interest in seeing me as a good person, this might be an entry you should skip.

download (1)When it comes to animals, I take things on a species by species basis.

If I am walking down a path, I do my best not to trample on worms or slugs.  They are in their world and I leave them be.

Spiders are allowed outside my apartment.  If they venture indoors, I may try to save them, but I am just as likely to squish them.  Ants get exterminated.  In the summer I slaughter countless flies.

Dogs are not my favorite animal, but I respect that many people I care about have an emotional attachment to them.

I felt bad when I accidentally ran over a squirrel.  The little guy darted out in front of my car.  They are woodland creatures and I have no beef with them.

I do not fish.  I would rather go for a hike than sit in the same spot with a pole.

I do not hunt.  I do not like guns.  The loud noise, the recoil, the violence of it all; hunting is not for me.

I often wonder what goes through a driver’s mind when they hit a deer.  They are quiet and majestic creatures.  They also need to learn that they should not run towards two bright lights.

Then there are birds.  Did you know birds have no bladder control?  The urine and stool are mixed together, they do not have a choice in how they dispose of it, and that is how those pestilent globs end up everywhere.

Ducks tend to stick to water.  Ravens, crows, pigeons; they all get a little greedy in city locations.  But at least they are smart enough to hop out of the way when a car comes towards them.

downloadThen there are geese.  I hate geese.  They clutter up my paths, they honk, and they hiss.  They attacked my brother when he was a child.  Their poop is disgusting.  I regard geese as pests.

Driving home from my run Sunday, I approached a group of geese in the road.  I had little regard for them.  I thought to myself, “stupid geese”.  I kept driving towards them.

There is a scene from an 80’s Superman comic where a media mogul sees a raccoon in the road.  In a panel or two that is described as pure evil, the man swerves and goes out of his way to run over the raccoon.  Many letters were written about this heinous act.

I did not swerve to hit the geese.  I did not try to avoid the geese.  At a speed of about 25 mph, I kept my vehicle going straight.  Straight into the path of the geese.

I had time to slam on the brakes.  The logical side of my brain had time to think, “Well, if they don’t move, they’re going to get hit.”  This was not a sudden encounter.  I could have stopped.

tire-tread-close-up-rubber-treads-82948628Instead I kept going.  I continued driving as they honked at me.  I kept driving as I felt two, perhaps three, bumps underneath my tires.

I had no emotional response.  I was not giggling in delight and twirling my mustache.  I was not overcome with guilt and remorse.  I factored those animals as a non-entity as I killed or injured them.

I eat plenty of birds.  Scrambled eggs, chickens; these are parts of my diet.  But I did not cook up these birds after they died.  My family has no problem shooting at birds.  I told myself that was not for me.

Logical, cold, unfeeling side of me sees no value in geese and reasons that they die because they are stupid.  When a large predator comes straight towards you, you should turn away.  You should not keep approaching the oncoming car and waddling to it like it is not a threat.

Nobody saw what I did.  There were no other joggers were around.  There were no cars on the side roads at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.  (I did see a rather large raccoon a few minutes prior to the act.  I am sure it got a nice meal out of my action.  Could I claim that I was helping the food chain?)

I cannot help but picture things from the sidewalk.  As an onlooker, the thought of watching a car purposely driving into a flock of animals without changing course gives me discomfort.  If I were a passerby, I might be horrified to see such a cruel driver.

As the driver, I had no objection.  As a witness walking by, I start to wonder if I am becoming a comic book villain.

My parents were farmers.  I have a great friend who lived in a house that ate the rabbits and chickens that they raised.  These people accepted that snapping a creature’s neck was part of the dinner table.

I was not getting any food out of my act.  I was saving time by not yielding to what I deemed an annoyance.

mylarbw1tmpI have a complicated history with cats.  In college I had a cat that was perfect for me.  In a moment of frustration, I was too rough.  I can still see the look in her eyes.  I still remember how her body seized up.  I was horrified.  An hour later, she seemed to forgive me.  For the next sixteen years I had her, she never brought it up.  But that one act has stuck with me ever since.  I got a glimpse of what I was capable of, hated it, and have learned never to do it again.

Earlier this year I came across a rabbit on the trail.  Its head was cocked off at an odd angle and one of its feet was not moving well.  It looked very much like it had been hit by a car.  I spent five minutes trying to make it feel better.  I do not like watching animals suffer.  Why does it matter to me if it is a rabbit or a bird?

I think humans get to outrank animals.  But I still buy cage-free eggs because I do not want animals to suffer needlessly on my behalf.  I will eat poultry, but I do not to be a jerk about it.  However those rules appear to be flexible.

It bothers me that I am capable of violence without emotion.  I care that if others saw me, they would have called me a monster.  Much of this revolves around what animals we value and why.  If someone saw me empty a mouse trap or swat flies, it is unlikely that they would care.  Maybe it is because these geese were bigger than a bug.  If something causes your tires to react than perhaps you should feel guilt.

Every morning on my way to work I try to get myself into a public mind frame.  I tell myself over and over, “Be kind, be gentle, be patient.”  Yesterday, I was none of those.  I was not kind to the birds, I certainly was not gentle, and I was not patient enough to let them move.  0 for 3.  John Woolman was a Quaker who went out of his way to treat animals humanely.  I feel like I did the opposite.  I was not seeking to injure an animal.  Yet I was hardly working to make the world a more peaceful place.

The fact that I am capable of violence disturbs me.  That I felt nothing disturbs me more.  If presented with the same scenario again, I am worried that I could once again go through with it and feel nothing.  And what does that say about me?

“So, tell me about this new guy you’re seeing!”  “Well, he’s tall, skinny, and I really like the way he murders fowls.”

“Johnson, why do you think we should hire this guy?”  “He’s never late, he does the job, but mostly, he kills without pause or remorse.  And I respect that.”

“Have you met our new neighbor?  He drives over animals and leaves their battered corpses on the road for all to enjoy.  The kids think he’s great.  I was going to take him over a nice pie.”

15163815781524750930world-kindness-day-clipart.medIt has been said that you can know a person for twenty years, but try to push him into a volcano and you will see who he really is.  It has also been said that if we could really look at ourselves in a mirror, it would make us want to vomit.  Those feel true in a way I do not like.  The people I love and admire; they would not do those sorts of things.

However, there is also a line from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  I have referenced it many times before.  It contains a pearl that I come back to.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us.  What matters is the part we choose to act on.  That’s who we really are.”

I do not like this side of me.  Thankfully there are other sides of me that I do like.  Just like everyone else in the flock.

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Finding the Unseen

“No trap doors, no secret passages, not even a hidden compartment.  What kind of enchanted talisman is this?”  –Tangled: The Series

Much like Rapunzel, I like to be surprised by quirks and hidden traits.  The time I identified with Iron Man most was in Avengers: Age of Ultron when Tony goes around a castle hoping to find secret doors and exclaims with glee when he finds one.

EN7IfAdWAAAfetPThe more history I take in, the more I hear about cool secrets.  Scottish architects would create a Laird’s Lug, or a “Lord’s Ear”; an alcove above dining rooms where the master of the house could eavesdrop on the conversation before entering the room.

Due to superstition, many buildings do not have a thirteenth floor.  Or if they do, it is used for maintenance or storage; spaces that residents would not normally access.  Superstition dictates that a tiny floor be created between the twelfth and fourteenth floors to contain the bad luck.  Personally, I want to see those non-floors.  (Some areas are making laws against having a floor missing.  It makes it confusing when firefighters need to get to a floor and they have to deal with subjective numbering.)

Disney World may be all well and good for the family.  But if Brad Meltzer is to be believed, the real fun takes place in the tunnels beneath and around the parks.  He wrote about his characters running through the area in The Millionaires and according to him, his research was all kinds of fun.  I would much rather run through miles of tunnels than ride a log through water.

New York’s underground is a whole other world.  Subway lines closed off.  Buildings with basements linked for blocks.  Even the Nazis wanted in.  What sort of odd planning designs and sequestered sections could I see?  (Less secretive, but in the same vein; one wonders what the storage facilities for the Vatican and the Smithsonian look like.  Oh the treasures.)

IMG_2166Thankfully, Seattle has one or two surprises to keep me happy.  The first and most publicly touted one is the Seattle Underground.  You can take the tour and everything.  There was a fire around a hundred years ago and instead of cleaning up all the buildings over dozens of blocks, Seattle simply took it up a level.  Many things were left as they were and the city started over on top of what remained.  I am grateful that I can see pieces of the past to this day.

Less publicly, and my personal favorite, is Seattle Center.  Right next to the Space Needle is the Center House.  (They changed the name a few years ago to The Armory for reasons you will soon understand.)  The Center House is a food court.  They have performances there, several theaters are located within, and plenty of coffee and sandwich options are available.  Even before the World’s Fair of ‘60’s, the grounds were being used.

As it was explained to me, The Center House was created as the Washington State National Guard Armory.  It is about a half mile from Lake Washington.  It was used for storage, certainly, but it had many other facets.  For one, there was a shooting range.  There are still notes scribbled on walls regarding the kind of ammunition allowed to be fired.  There are marks where the bullets hit the metal backdrops.

Then there was the story that I honestly thought was an urban legend or a high school rumor taken out of context.  But no.  Underneath the grounds there is a swimming pool.  A frickin’, unfinished, large as you could need swimming pool.  Well, the intent for one at least.

IMG_1149 (590x800)The prevailing theory as it was explained to me was that the armed forces were offered the space.  Better to have your methods down and worked out in a contained environment.   But they ran out of money and interest as World War II took precedence.  Thus it has sat there for eight decades, invisible to most and unfinished.  Seattle Police Department utilizes some space including a holding cell there.

I love the idea of that gigantic pool sitting there behind locked doors.  Millions of people walk over and around it every year.  It is under the shadow of the Space Needle, but few realize it when they are walking over it.

With the way things have been going this year, I thought of something that might kick the Center House pool down to number two of my favorite secrets.  I pondered, “What if my family had been part of the Underground Railroad?”

I was not blindly hoping on this point.  My family has a long line of Quakers in this country.  We had relatives living in Ohio during the 1800’s.  It was within the scope of reality to imagine my family had housed refugees trying to escape to freedom.

However, that was not the case.  The closest I can claim is that my great grandfather owned a house that was once used for that purpose (but not by him).  The floor boards were built higher in an area next to a wall.  Imagine lifting the floor like it was a treasure chest.  Slaves crawled a short distance and then stood up in a narrow space between the walls.  They were sandwiched in the architecture like human insulation when the houses were searched.

417786_520930027965443_1309891733_nIn prodding a bit deeper, I found another secret house of a kind that my parents did have a part in.  Back in the 60’s, carrying a child out of wedlock was a much bigger scandal, especially in Ohio.  In response, some Quakers in the area set up Friends Rescue Home.  It was a large house.  Inside were those that could not return home.  The Quakers wanted to help those that needed a roof over their head.

In a dorm like setting, women would live out their pregnancies.  Some women had nowhere else to turn.  Some were afraid of what others would think.  Apparently the common lie was that the girls was, “visiting her aunt” for a stretch.  The children were often given up for adoption and the girls went home with whatever story they created.

We could discuss former attitudes of society for days.  What I want to focus on here is my mom.  She was a nurse who worked in the house with the girls.  She would go with them to medical appointments.  She would be assigned different shifts to be sure that there was a nurse on duty at all times.  Those that society deemed unworthy had an ally in my mom.

famchrst0001When I was a kid, the main reason why I wanted a house was so that I could build secret rooms.  (It did not hurt that our house had a tiny crawl space under our stairway that I took over.  I had my own secret door all to myself!)  I wanted a bookshelf to hide a door that went to my clandestine reading room where no one could disturb me.  Every house that I built out of LEGOs had a secret door somewhere.  Sometimes it was a two-story plan and I had a secret trap door with a hidden ladder.  I have long been fascinated by disguised spaces.

The reasons for the secrets are as varied as the spaces.  We choose to close off old areas to make way for the new.  We do not look too closely at a place that might contain objectionable sights.  We go out of our way to build rooms to keep people or objects safe.

I still find myself peeking whenever a door is left even a tiny bit ajar.  I keep reading history books hoping for another secret to be discovered.  (Ideally attached to a story about helping others.)  I hope that all of the hiding places and concealed spots have not yet been revealed.  I could use a few more fun surprises in life.

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It is not All Uphill

Things are a bit stressful.   One job closed, one job eliminated, one job still having me come in.  Working in the city, newspaper reports and podcasts being far too serious, bills keep showing up…

It is safe to say that I need to take a hike every now and then.

imagesYou would think that my hike earlier in the month would have been enough to scare me away.  Things like encountering black bears often nudge people towards safety.  That would be the logical response.  Apparently I am shirking responsible behavior.  Oh well.

In all fairness, I am pretty sure the bear was just a cub.  It seemed like it only had about fifty pounds on me as opposed to several hundred.  I stood there by the creek, taking in this critter form twenty-five feet away, when the bear ran away from me.  I thought about taking a picture but that is how one ends up in the hospital.   We parted peacefully and without souvenirs (such as photos or claw marks).

I was healthy, I had free time, yet my apartment tempted me.  Laziness is a powerful non-motivator.  I knew my knees would hurt because the hike I had planned was the hardest route one can take without climbing gear.  In roughly two miles you go up about four thousand feet.  By the time one scrambles up the scary rocks at top, they wonder who the designed this hike.  (Madmen, that is who.)

IMG_1562 (498x800)The trail features mountain flowers that one must respect.  Yes, you walked all the way up.  However these plants live there.  They thrive in rocky terrain.  They give all the flies and bees a reason to mingle.  It would be wrong to pick them.  (Though I will pic them.)

At the very top is a curiosity.  Sure, it is called Mailbox Peak.  I understand that.  But since when have there been two mailboxes up there?  It raises questions that I can only answer with theories.

Why the Sam Hill Mailbox Peak Needs Two Mailboxes:

-The ladder and fire hydrant moved out so there was some acreage left over.

-Portland had gotten too comfy in its weirdness label and we wanted to challenge them for the title.

-The Starbucks model of crowding the market was too powerful to resist.

-One is for express mail.  Bald eagles are on the USPS logo, now we are putting them to work in the mountains.

-That line to take photos on Everest?  We did not want that to happen here.  So we created a second mailbox to cut down on customer wait times.

-We listed and relisted and relisted it on Craig’s List and the darn thing would not sell.  We finally offered it for free.  Nobody took it.  It was a perfectly good mailbox.  The next logical move was to install it on the top of a mountain.  Why do you ask?

-The first mailbox was full.

-“We are instituting a new loyalty program for our most valued customers.  Now, get all the perks you have been yearning for in this new, especially reserved mailbox, not available to others.  Act today!”

IMG_1554 (800x611)-They received too many complaints that the black mailbox clashed with peoples’ jackets when taking photos for their online profiles.  The second mailbox, painted white, was added to satisfy selfie demands.

-Why?  Chicken thigh.  And you know what?  Chicken butt.

-Now, the next time the guy takes his friend hiking, and the friend gets all whiny about how hard the trek is, the main hiker can reply, “Hey, at least this time I’m not making you lug a mailbox up a mile and a half tall mountain!”  Then the second hiker will grumble, roll his eyes, and take a swig of water instead of yelling at his hiking friend.  (When invited to go hiking a third time, the hiking friend will find an excuse not to.  “Gotta paint the bedroom that day”, he’ll blatantly fib.  Nobody likes hiking with a crazy person.)

-First there was Twin Peaks.  Then there was X-Files.  After that was LOST.  Coming the summer of 2020:  Mountain of Mailboxes.

-Look, you have all been making comments while getting your bums up this mountain that you are like Frodo and Sam, right?  How you are struggling over fields of boulders to finish your epic quest, right?  Well there were two towers.  Not one.  Two.  We gave you a second mailbox.  You should be thanking us.  Nerds.  And hey, they did all that in bare feet.  Suck it up!

-In these highly charged political times, we believe that the public should have access to as many choices and options as possible.

-People have a lot of free time these days.  Antics ensue.  Whatchya gonna do?

—–

A lot of exercise.  A mighty struggle.  An outdoor fix.  And yes, a dash of the absurd.  Not a terrible way to spend a day off.

Let us leave with a formal acknowledgement of Mount Rainier.  There is no more acceptable use of the word, “awesome” than Rainier surrounded by blue sky.  Views like this are why I take a hike.

IMG_1543

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The Kindest Cut of All

I get bored in the bathroom.  Toilet, bathtub, linoleum; there is not a lot of variety in there.

Yesterday I took the scissors and started grabbing tufts of hair atop my noggin.

IMG_1527 (800x672)I snipped here, I chopped there.  There was no reason to it.  No strategy was used.

When this happens in movies, it all works out marvelously.  The heart-broken twenty-something ends up with a rocker hairdo.  Thanks to her haste and aggression, she is ready to face the world again.  (The moody music that plays in the background probably helps with that.)

The spy that needs to alter their appearance winds up with a dyed and unrecognizable cut.  They are still being hunted down, but at least they are stylish.

IMG_1540 (722x800)Me?  My hair winds up looking like this.  Mostly because I just do not care about my hair.  The less work involved, the happier I am.  I would sooner hack off a curl than spend every day grooming it.  And product?  No.

I have no roommate to evenly cut my hair.  I have no partner to talk me out of things.

I said, “good enough” and went for my morning jog like this.

The sun had not risen yet.   I saw two other joggers and six bicycles.  I hardly doubt that they noticed and or cared.

After I had gotten my outdoor fix, I came home and finished the job.  I shaved it all off.  Nothing left on top of my freshly spherical dome.  Take that, comb!

I care if my cat is hacking up a hairball.  I try to notice when my loved ones get a haircut.  When it comes to my hair, I try not to give even the smallest crap.

My bathroom is still boring.  Now I can spend even less time in there.

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This Park went Full Circle

As I youngster I liked to scurry about.  Our backyard shared a fence with the high school track.  We had a big yard.  Our driveway was quiet.  The family room was big enough and even had some couches one could dramatically leap over.

When you enter college you are supposed to try new things.  Broaden your horizons, experiment, and find out who you are as a person.  The only new thing I agreed to go was going with my best friend to Green Lake.

gldock5Green Lake is a fascinating place.  In the ‘60’s it was quite the venue.  Bob Hope and the Aqua Follies would perform in and around the man-made lake.  While it has been trimmed down considerably, there used to be a coliseum-like shell structure capable of hosting thousands.  The Grateful Dead played there and it has long been a go-to destination in Seattle.  It is on the way to work for many, only a few miles from the University of Washington, and rubs up against a major road.

Green Lake serves many functions.  There are almost too many to list, but I am feeling reckless.  Let us give it a go.

The Many Tantalizing Choices that Green Lake Offers

-Go for a stroll.  It is less than three miles.  Plenty of elderly people have been sauntering along the loop for years.  Strollers are plentiful, dogs get their walks, and folks take in nature while sipping on their coffee.

-Go for a run.  This is what I feel Green Lake was created for.  This is what I have been doing for years.  I am not alone.  Since the track just happens to be close to a 5k, almost every little run is hosted here.  A turkey-themed race.  A bells-on race.  A girls-centric race where most are clad in Wonder Woman apparel.  A candle walk.  Anything short of a half-marathon will probably happen at Green Lake.

-Go for a swim.  I have taken exactly two swim lessons at the indoor pool.  You can join the community events or sit in the steam room.

glduck-Go for a swim with questionable hygiene.  Yes, it is a lake.  A man-made lake, but a lake.  And the lake is stocked with fish.  There is plenty of wildlife to join you in the water.  Green Lake is host to hundreds of ducks and geese.  With that comes a bounty of feathers and poop.  There has often been a struggle with toxic algae in the water.  Whenever I see people on the beach-side of Green Lake going for a dip, I become a bit squeamish.  “Suspect”, is my word for the lake.  But hey, it looks pretty.

-Oh, the bunnies.  I almost forgot.  There is a post-Easter tradition.  Once you have realized that those adorable little balls of fluff do not make fun pets?  Then you go over to Green Lake and leave them there.  Are you supposed to?  No.  Does it happen?  Oh yes.  You will always be met by a bevy of bunnies at Green Lake.

-You can park your RV for extended amounts of time (unofficially allowed).  The pool has showers which are open to the public.  There are restrooms every half mile or so.  There is street parking.  So yes, especially right now, there are plenty of people living at Green Lake.  You hear their generators and smell the gasoline as you run by.  You see a tent tucked away in the brush.  You note a hammock pulled taut between two trees with a bicycle parked below.  You may see a person pushing their grocery cart on the path, not really sure how far they are going.

-You can people watch.  This is almost required.  You see the uber-fit guy with his shirt off running with his equally in-shape partner in sports bra and short shorts.  They have their eight-pack abs, perfect haircuts, and determination written on their face.  They are out to conquer the world.  There are the stroller moms.  They gather in pairs or groups and eavesdropping on their new way of life is fascinating.  And yes, there are the folks that push a stroller, sip from their cup of coffee, have a dog whose leash is taking up half the path, all while talking on the phone.  (These people make my head explode.  Too much going on!)

-You can embrace the neutral territory.  Got a blind date and you want to be surrounded by people in a non-shady location?  There are always people at Green Lake.  Want to trade off the kids for the weekend?  Separated couples can meet in the parking lot, exchange updates, and grab the kids’ backpacks.

-You can sit in the parking lot.  Yes, there are the people that have taken up residence, but you do not have to go that far.  Maybe you are extra early to an interview and need somewhere to go.  Maybe you want a lunch break.   Maybe your legs hurt and you want to look at your phone aimlessly.  In every parking lot, you will find at least one person lingering in their car.  A few of them are waiting for their activities buddy.  Some never actually leave their vehicle.

Since college, it has only gotten busier.  More strollers.  More dogs.  More people walking abreast in packs of four or five.  On a sunny weekend day, thousands of people would occupy this plot of land.  The parking lot became the ultimate game of musical chairs.  You could almost hear the couples in their cars, “There!  There’s a spot!  Go go go!”  One more reason why this is the perfect place to people-watch.

gllapjogI am a runner.  I want to go in my circles and go home.  I am capable of weaving and avoiding the the crowds, but I would rather not.  Oh, how I yearned for the Green Lake of twenty years ago when I could run around unmolested by others…

Then Covid happened.

Now I show up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday and I do not see anyone for the first mile.  The current trend is that I will see two or three people on the outer loop during my run.  On the inside loop I will spot roughly four people.  After an hour of exercise, I have seen eight or ten people.  While I do not like anything about the disease itself, this particular side-effect is fantastic.  I can run multiple miles without having to dodge around groups.

Green Lake is back to how it once was.  The old people are milling about.  One or two guys are trying to stave off middle age, and there is a dog walker.  A single bicyclist rides around and the geese have taken over any patch of cement or grass that they darn well please.  Four of five guys have their folding chairs set up as they fish from the lake.  In this sub-section of life, all is quiet.

I relish the moment.  I embrace running around the lake because I know that eventually it will go back to normal.  One day the sports fields will be bustling with soccer players again.  One day the joggers will outnumber the water fowl.  One day there will be myriad folks getting in my way.

I do not want anyone to be sick.  Let us all get to a place where we do not have to live in fear.  I would like the death count to stop.  However, should Green Lake take a little time to get back to normal?  The guy who likes to scurry about in wide open spaces would be just fine with that.

gldock12

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Coming to a Close

When asked how I am doing these days, I tend to respond that I am, “better than most”.  Covid has not knocked on my door with the heavy hand that it uses with others.  My bills have all been paid.  No one I know personally has died.  Of the three jobs I had at the beginning of the year, two of them took a break.  Now one of them is calling it quits.  The worst thing that Covid has taken from me is my comic book shop.

20200707_074908 (800x600)I could talk about my comic shop for hours.  It was my shop.  I started going there in 1994.  I started working there in 1996.  It was my first job.  It was my high school job.  You know those awkward moments in high school where you try to work up the courage to walk across the crowded cafeteria past all the cool kids and sit next to that girl you liked?  That was not me.  I was off in the corner, or probably in the theatre, reading comic books.

I quit when I started college, but I always made the weekly trek back home to get new comics.  At my peak I was buying eighty to a hundred titles a month.  Then, when the owner decided to sell the store, the new owner asked me to come back and work for her.  So it was also one of my college jobs.  I arranged my class schedule around having Mondays off.  (Something my parents may not have thought was wise.  But comics were more fun that college.)

postman-151706_1280I quit again when I had the opportunity to be a mail carrier.  You drive around in an aluminum car, walk up and down sidewalks, and all you have to do is carry a bag.  No office, no phone, what is there to not love?  Surely that dream was worth giving up working at the comic shop.  I still went in once a week for my fix.  And then, when I found out that the bag mail carriers lug around was too heavy, I asked to come back to the store.

I love comics.  I love that it is a homegrown effort.  If one person draws something that another person wrote, they can somehow craft a page that expresses the creativity of both.  The whole of their efforts is greater than the sum.  I love that most comics are about people giving of their own time and safety to make the world a better place.

It is a long con.  Relationships can be developed over years.  Events can run over multiple titles for months and make the struggle that much more epic.  Batman encourages me to endure the hard stuff, Superman makes me want to do better and help others, and The Flash understands just how great it feels to run.

I like that there are currently comics for all tastes and flavors.  I may not respect the finished product.  There are nude comics that are nothing more than base excitement.   There are comics that go out of their way to splash each panel with bloody gore.  However everybody can find something for their tastes.  Some of it is pretty flippin’  fantastic.

kisscc0-night-city-public-domain-video-spirit-very-late-night-city-5c9a66172a6f85.0372499015536225511738Many a time I have awoke at two in the morning, gone into work, and plucked a pile of periodicals off of the wall.  I read anywhere from thirteen to twenty-seven comics a week.  Read read read read read.  What is the point of being in a room surrounded by comics if one cannot indulge?

Granted, there is a social aspect to it.  A stranger comes in, you start talking, and before you know it an hour has passed as you both geek out over this delightful diversion.  There are the people that do not know what they are looking for and I was able to help them out.  The person who does not know where to begin allowed me to work on my research skills.  At the end of the day though, I was there to read.  (I have only been to one comic convention.  I helped set up our store booth for plenty of them, but I always preferred to read the books rather than crowd around tables and talk about the books.)

For the vast majority of my job, I was allowed to read while I worked.  Out of an eight hour shift, I would spend at least three hours reading.  The newest owner had more tasks for me.  Reading while at work more or less ceased.  And the comics were not all of the quality I was hoping for.  Sometimes you follow a title because you feel like you should, not because it excites you.  (Collectors have their “gotta get ‘em all” addictions.)

crnrcmcI am pissed off that my store is closing.  The comic industry has been struggling for a bit.  Movies based on comics can make billions of dollars.  Getting people into a store to read more of those adventures should not require effort.  Yet readership keeps shrinking.  Then Covid came along and made it so that no new books were published for a month and for the last three months the most we have been able to offer is curbside pickup.  Shelf browsing is essential to comic shopping.  People want to see the covers and flip through the pages.  I am mad that a little bug dealt the death blow and that we do not have enough fans to support this job I was skilled at.  I am an expert!  I told you all about Thanos!  I explained Groot to you people!  I have done all this reading!  How can you not consider me a valuable resource!

I am sad about the store closing.  I could do with a few more visits from the nerds of the world.  I still loved opening the newest shipment and seeing all the colors leap to greet my eyes.  Seeing the sights that were offered, getting peeks at the unreleased treats to come; it was a joy.  The customers and the environment are things I will miss.

At the same time I am okay with the store closing.  I thought it would close two years ago.  Instead, my boss sold it and I was allowed to stay on.  Two years ago I was ready to read less.  Two years ago I thought my time in the store was running out.  The new owner gave me time to say good-bye.  I would be even more upset if I had been kicked out two years ago.  I am currently okay with not devouring twenty books a week.  All my time in the store led to me taking home lots of books.  I am currently rereading every Superman book from 1986 until 1994.  It will take me at least a month.  That is only one of my reading goals.

New comics are still being printed.  I can still go out and buy them whenever I want.  No one is cutting me off from my favorite hobby.  They are only taking away my self-imposed status.  A big part of my identity is being Comic Shop Guy and that is the part that stings.  That guy feels like he does not have much purpose or that he feels society does not have a use for him.  Is this what forced retirement feels like?  “We’ve decided we’re done with you.  Move along.  Time for ‘The New’ to hop in and take over.”

After work today, I will go into the store for the last time.  I have one last stack of books to pick up.  I have already said my good-byes to my coworkers.  We will probably still text message each other about nerdy things.  Two of them already have jobs at other stores.  I, after twenty-six long years, will no longer be an insider.

20200707_074828 (800x600)I will have over a quarter century of memories.  I have stories to tell about comic shop life.  (I never really caught on to “The Big Bang Theory” for one simple reason.  It felt like real life.  What is so funny about nerds meeting in a comic shop and nitpicking?  That is just another Wednesday in comic life.)  I still have my encyclopedic memory and research skills that I can use, though the opportunities will be much rarer.  And of course, I have thousands and thousands of comics to entertain myself with.

How am I doing these days?  A large part of me has been taken away by circumstances outside of my control.  I have more time to read.  I used to go on long leisurely walks once a week as I strolled from home to my comic shop.  Now I work a decent job at a grocery store.  I have less people to talk four-color adventures with.  But nobody is dying here (except on the page).  I am better than most.  My job is gone.  My love for comics however, is alive and well.

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Hamilton: Rhyme and Reasons

Alexander_Hamilton_portrait_by_John_Trumbull_1806Well now I’m just like everyone
Having finally seen Hamilton.
So pardon my discussing a show
That all of you saw five years ago.

They could have done with looser stitches;
In the men’s overly tight britches.
The ladies, patriots, and snitches;
Many had some powerful “itches”.

Hormones ruled people colonial?
Even in dress ceremonial?
Talking eyes, things matrimonial
Their guilt forces testimonial.

In a new nation of lots of men
Founders had lots of ink in their pen.
This patriot was drawn into sin.
We all make a mistake now and then.

He could have been kinder to his spouse
He was writing away in The House.
He cheated, for that he was a louse.
Let us move on, I don’t want to grouse

The characters include Hamilton.
And there’s wacky Thomas Jefferson.
Let’s always look to George Washington,
It’s roll-call at the Smithsonian.

You’d think his allies were in cahoots
With how fast they turned their heels and boots
They smiled and preened in their polite suits
Then demand a duel where each side shoots.

800px-Duel_between_Aaron_Burr_and_Alexander_HamiltonThe musical had laughs and some woe.
As for its pace, it was never slow.
An entertaining, engaging show
I can see why all cry out, “Bravo!”

My response when the event was done
Was being reminded of the fun;
Rhyming everything under the sun.
You simply can’t cease once you’ve begun.

The activity is quite sublime
And I engage in it all the time
Though others look at me like I’m slime
When I get caught indulging in rhyme.

People hear me talk, that’s when they know
My mind is odd, like Garry Trudeau.
Or perhaps I’m being Jacques Cousteau.
I see words up top, then dive below.

I won’t claim some rhyming mastery
As I compare stanza A to B.
It’s merely a fun activity
dictionary-definition-closeup-92653817Towards which I have some proclivity.
Why don’t all enjoy this revelry?
Why do some hear verse with misery?
I’m no poet, nor lay claim to be,
But playing with words fills me with glee.
As my work friends walk away from me.
They say my mind has gone out to sea.
(I try to ignore their jealousy.)
Why not flip through a dictionary?
Playing with words is a great hobby
That I picked up from my ancestry.

As Hamilton shows, learn from the past
Do it now, please do it rather fast.
Learn from the dancing, talented cast;
The lessons the nation learned should last.

As for me? What shall I take away?
What moral should I do what they say?
Whether writing for country or play
Do what you love, it’s the only way.

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Easier Said than Done

“Man cannot tell the whole truth about himself, even if convinced that what he wrote would never be seen by others.”

That quote, and all the formatted quotes here, is from Mark Twain’s autobiography (volume one).  Twain knew how hard it was to talk about oneself and resist trying to make you look better.  And I cannot talk about what someone else did without first talking about what I did.

can-string-talk-speak-yell-handBack in my college years, I said something unwise.  I aped what I saw in movies.  With the desire to be funny, I walked up to my black coworker and said, “What’s up my n—“.

Not my finest moment.  It falls into the category of, “things white people cannot say”.

Today I believe I understand a little bit more.  As I interpret it now, I would guess that those of black heritage have taken back that phrase from those that wronged them.  They take a word that white people used for hate and now use it as a term of love for each other.  For what better revenge is there than taking what was once a weapon used against you and lessening its sting?

I was not thinking about any of this when I went up to my coworker back then.  I was after a laugh or a clap on the back.  Instead, I got a much different response.

He turned to me.  His anger was clear on his face.  He said with all the seriousness one could muster, “Don’t ever say that.”

He did me a favor.  He directly and explicitly told me I had erred.  He did not try to sugarcoat it.  He made sure that I knew I had made a misstep.  I apologized, we went back to work, and that was the one time that I ever used that word.  It turns out college kids do not actually know everything, despite what they think.

“We suppress an unpopular opinion because we cannot afford the bitter cost of putting it forth.”

Come back with me to the present.  We have had a few weeks of discussion about race.  I work in what I feel is a rather literate city.  Seattle is full of many types of people.  We support our libraries, theatres, and museums.  There have been marches near my work.  We talk about current events every day.

Imagine my surprise when I heard my manager heckling my coworker with these phrases.

Border_USA_Mexico“I thought you Mexicans were supposed to be good at running.”

“You know, with all that running from immigration that you do.”

“Come to think of it, your back is looking a little wet.”

My face does not often betray my emotions much.  This time, I could feel my eyes fighting not to bulge out of their sockets.  My eyebrows went up as I struggled with the fact that someone was actually saying these things.

This was not a senile grandpa at Thanksgiving.  This manager is only ten years older than me.  He had to know better.  I mean, he had to.  Right?

The part of me that defends his friends was ready to leap into action.  Yet my coworker was laughing at our boss.  He was smiling and going along with it.  He is an adult.  He can stand up for himself.  He can speak for himself.  And he was laughing along with our manager.  He gave no signs that he was offended or needed help.

Was I as clueless as I had been in college?  Was I letting myself butt into a conversation that I did not fully understand?  Was I putting myself in the role of a hero where there was no victim?

At the same time, I do not like people belittling others.  I would prefer to stay quiet, but if a friend needs an ally, I want to be available.  Yet at no time did he ask for help.

So I waited.  I held my breath.  I let it pass.  When the manager had gone about other tasks, I approached my coworker.

“Were you offended by that?  Did you find it funny?  It was a bit much…”

He laughed it off.  He said he was not offended.  He did not speak of wrongs that needed to be righted.

Later, my manager found me and he brought up the conversation.

“What I said before was crude”, he admitted.  “I know better.  I should not have said any of that.”

I did not have to confront him.  I did not have to take sides.  My conscience spoke to me, his conscience said something to him; eventually it came up and we parted amicably.

“None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned.”

When I see my boss again, there is going to be a part of me that thinks of those jokes.  He apologized.  I do not need to harbor a grudge or seek justice.  We can still respect each other.  But those jokes will always be in my brain.

Maybe we are more similar than I care to admit.  I still think of that callous phrase I used all those years ago.  Perhaps my boss will think of those jokes whenever he sees my coworker.  Shame can last a long time, even when it is self-inflicted.

scales-of-justiceIf I judge my manager for being unkind, I also have to treat myself that way.  If I am capable of being more cautious with my speech, is not the same true for him?

I keep hoping that we as a civilization are learning and that it has to get better.  It obviously takes more time than I prefer.  We are all still making mistakes.  Hopefully it is getting easier for us to admit when we speak before we think.

We are still working on only hearing uncaring comments and racist jokes in Mark Twain’s books and not in real life.

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…And Nothing but the Tooth

We have touched on this before.  I know they mean well, but good intentions can no longer mask the truth.  After thirty-plus years of being subjected to their ways, I must once again be honest and come forward.

My dentist is out of control.

First off, let us discuss the overly demanding nature of teeth.  No other part of our body has the gall or the audacity to require as much attention as teeth do.  They require constant maintenance.  Cleaning is expected multiple times a day.  If one gets chipped or knocked out, society assumes that we replace it. Bleaching is encouraged.  During photographic moments, many will goad us into showing those pearly whites.  And if your teeth are not straight, you are mocked as being imperfect and/or British.  (I am a smirker, only the slightest smile with no teeth required.)

Interior_of_the_heart_lungsliver_and_stomach_from_The_Household_Physician_1905_14147401167

Does plenty of work.  Does not preen or strut about.

Fingernails can be trimmed every week or two.  Stretching every day is recommended, but the body still functions without it.  You do not hear the liver or the spleen asking to be cleaned whenever you have a sandwich.

Eyes are self-cleaning.  You are actually discouraged from touching them.  Putting chemicals in your eyes is likely to do more harm than good.  They sit in pools of water and take care of themselves.  But teeth?  Teeth are constantly surrounded by water.  Saliva is produced by the bucket.  Yet we still need to brush them?

All the other body parts we have mentioned move.  They roll around, they send signals, they flex and abduct.  But teeth?  They sit there.  They never go this way or that.  All that is required of them is to sit in the same place all their lives and rub up against each other.  Do not bump your neighbor out of their spot, and make contact with your partner below or above you.  Sit there and look pretty.  Teeth have, without a doubt, the lowest mobility requirements of any section of the body.  And still, they get all high-maintenance about it.  The whole thing drives me nuts.

I think that my teeth have brainwashed the dental industry.  “We’re special!  Tell your clients how special we are!”  Then they do.  They get all caught up in it; more and more every year.

When I was a kid, I was told to brush and floss after every meal.  Since we were kids that had exciting things to do, such as roll down grassy hills and take our stuffed animals on adventures, we were often allowed to put off all that cleaning until the end of the day.  So long as we brushed our teeth before bed, all was forgiven.

Then at some point we had the braces talk.  By “talk”, I mean that parents usually conscripted the children into that service.  You wore your metal, you talked funny, and you had no caramels.  Myself, I skipped the braces part.  I regret it.

soliders-vietnam

My campaign had less violence, less disease, and sadly, less helicopters.

I was caught up in my Battle of the Headgear which was my own personal Vietnam.  It lasted longer than it should of, I was not truly behind the effort, there were frustrations on both sides, and while some areas may have improved, it was never fully fixed.  A slight overbite is one more quirk that I accept.  After all of that struggling, I was not up for the War of the Braces.

Around the time that the braces are off, the world starts to sell us on mouthwash.  Put a stinging chemical into your mouth and maintain control for one minute.  Do not swallow or consequences will be unpleasant.  Do not spit out too soon, or the effects of the wonder-product will be diminished.  In the great wait-out-the-clock test of wills, one swishes and gurgles their way to victory.  Why?  Because it helps clean, “those spots that a brush cannot reach”.  We bought into it because it also cleaned our breath and we had hormones.  One must be minty-fresh when walking the lunchroom of high school with acne is in full swing.

Next were the electric toothbrushes.  Which were followed by bleach at home kits.  Whitening toothpastes.  Electric water picks.  Tongue scrubbers.  Those are just the products that I, a layman, am aware of.  I am sure there are more.

Again, when I was young I was told to brush and floss.  I could accept that.  The mouthwash has never been appealing to me.  New products kept appearing in the bag.  First off it was little pills that would produce a dye on the teeth and show where you were missing when you brushed.  Next up was fluoride toothpaste.  My dentist tried to push numbing medicine for canker sores on me.  That was followed by the mouth guard.  She suggested a water pick.  Later she would give me one for my birthday.  Now it is being suggested that I use one kind of toothpaste in the morning for my gums and a different kind in the afternoon for my teeth.

There must be some mystery checklist that they slowly work down.  It gets constantly updated and we are none the wiser.

Yesterday it was suggested that I buy probiotics.  The reason I was given, which I still cannot state this phrase without rolling my eyes, is that I have sticky saliva.

Sticky saliva?  It is made of vast quantities of water!  How can it possible be construed as sticky?  If she had described it as viscous I would have given her some credit, but I’m not producing adhesives here.  Good grief, now they are making stuff up.

“Oh, sure, your toothpaste works fine.  But with this refraction enhancer, they will shine brighter than ever!”

“You have the longest roots we’ve ever seen (true fact), but with this custom gel and tray set we can make sure that those teeth are resting comfortably every night!”

“Here is tuna-flavored toothpaste.  Brush your teeth with it.  Then open your mouth, detach your jaw, and let your cat lick it extra-clean to give it that extra attention it deserves!”

I would not put it past them.  We go with it.  Why?  I will tell you why.

Why Going to the Dentist is Like an Abusive Relationship

-We are constantly striving to get their approval.

-We are forced into submission.  “Sit here.”  “Lie down.”  “Open your mouth.”  “Stick out your tongue.”  “Turn towards me.”  “Spit.”  “Rinse.”  “Put these over your eyes.”  “Come back in six months.”

-We pay for everything.

-We constantly live in fear of what they will say.

dental-tools-vector-flat-illustration-icon-set-mouth-mirror-periodontal-explorer-scaler-equipment-isolated-white-background-115592111

#1. Ow.  #2. Still Ow.  #3. More Ow.  #4.  Stop with the ow.  #5.  I’m gagging here.

-We constantly live in fear of their tools weapons.  We all know how sharp those metal things are.  We know how much they hurt when they jab us “just so”.  They know it too.

-They mask their true feelings (though in the days of Covid, we are evening the score a little here).

-The overhead music.  Come on.  That is a power play.  We all know it.  Who else would listen to that music?  Relaxing?  I think not.

-The check-in desk is a purposeful barrier to separate the commoner from the professional.

-With offerings like Highlights and People, we are being talked down to.  (Though, with the thick atmosphere of fear that surrounds their offices, we could hardly be expected to focus on Tolstoy.)

-We are made to lie down.  Then, in a sick power move, they adjust the height up or down at their choosing.  This, when paired with the height adjustment of their own chairs, is an obvious power play.

-They use us as a shelf.  They place the little paper blanket on our chests.  We think it is to catch any extra moisture.  They want us to believe that they want us to stay presentable.  But no.  We are a work table.  Got an extra pick?  Set it on their chest.  Need to have that drill nearby?  There is room on the chest.  Where can they put that suction tube?  It can join the others; you guessed it, on the chest.  I have had four instruments taking up valuable real estate on my chest.

-They alone decide when they see us.  If they feel like it, they may make an excuse to see us soon. The dentist usually only makes time for us twice a year.

-They make no effort to hide the fact that they are constantly seeing other people.  Those others are also knocking at their door, calling them, and begging for their attention.

Abusive, I tell you.  My dentist is nice.  Over thirty years with this gal.  Huggably soft.  We both know who holds the power.  However, I do have one advantage over her that I delight in.

images

Mwa ha ha ha ha!

When I started seeing her as a child, I was the tiny one.  The dentist-patient conflict is an unending one.  I have learned patience.  And now, years later, I am almost two feet taller than she is.  Oh, the sweet victory.  The potential for emotional victory!  The delicious victory that I relish.

What was that?  You cannot adjust my height when I am standing up?  You are stuck down there looking up at me?  Who is in control now, missy?

Huh.  I got a little loopy there.  I blame the nitrous oxide.

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