Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My cat only likes me in my underwear

My cat, Zoe, only likes me in my underwear. She won’t give me the time of day unless I’m sporting tighty-whities. Like a trip to the zoo for humans, she’ll watch me from about five feet away, clearly within reach of an exit should something horrible happen. I might notice her noticing me, and start talking to her in that soft “kitty kitty voice.” Or, heaven forbid, reach out to pick her up.

If the boundaries are respected, and I don’t break the trust, she’ll just sit there. Watching. Waiting. Fascinated by God knows what. Hand her a clipboard and white coat and she might as well be a scientist in some lab. She must have a theory or two about white guys in white undies. Working something out. A bit puzzled maybe.

The jeans come on, one leg at a time, and that’s her cue to leave.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Assignment: Eavesdropping

The following was a study in dialogue (listening to how people speak to each other). I tracked three conversations and wrote this up as homework -- it sounded like an assignment -- but the professor didn't call for it in her next lecture. She used in class exercises which was fun too. I'm just putting it here so it'll be in the cloud and easily accessible.

We set off from the parking lot at work. My mom needed a ride to the mechanic's shop downtown. Walking out to my truck, it’s almost dark, cool but not freezing, a mild January breeze in the air. I start the ignition and we both buckle up. It’s barely a 5-minute trip, and just ahead of 5 o’clock traffic.

My mom has good instincts, socially. That is to say she won't talk your ear off. She’s not like some people who feel the need to fill dead space with the sound of their own voices? They'll talk about any random crap they can dream up in that split second where fear takes over and coerces speech out of their mouths. Perhaps they're afraid, if not constantly talking, that they'll fade quietly out of existence forever. You’ve met these people in line at the grocery store, kids’ soccer games, or waiting for a movie to start, etc. One always sits next to you on a plane, or bus, or some other manmade apparatus that herds people like cattle into confined areas, and where, with nothing else to do but wait, he or she rescues us heroically from the evil of being alone with our thoughts. Perhaps as writers, we should harness this wasted banter to study dialogue.

No so with my mother. She’s not chatty, but a pretty decent communicator when necessary. Maybe she feels an unspoken obligation as the occupant of the passenger seat to drive the topics of conversation while I drive the truck. It was fine for two reasons: first, it would do nicely as content for a writing assignment; and two, it wasn’t hard work.

We turn right onto Snake River Avenue where she begins to make small talk.

"They really need to fill in that mud hole right there," she starts. “I always seem to find it on my way out.”

“Mmm hmm,” craning my neck a little to acknowledge the mud hole in question. What mud hole? Truth be told, I never really noticed the mud hole then.

We speed up as the dull, muffled white noises of engines and passing cars fill the cab. The radio is on but not very loud.

“You guys are all studying now I bet.” she says.

“Mmm hmm.” Huh? A question was just asked. “Of course, yeah,” I recover. “Well not the blonde ones, but Emma of course, and me with my new class. Lots of homework already.”

“I can imagine,” she adds.

“Gini is taking that Quickbooks class again too,” I say.

“Maybe she’ll have better luck this time,” mom says. “Good for her.”

We round the jagged wall cliff just past ATK and stay left of the split in the road, slowing down for the a red light at Southway Avenue.

Mom changes the subject. “I don’t think Uncle Don has found a job yet, not that we’ve heard anyway,” sounding a little down.

“Nothing yet, huh?” I ask.

“No. It must really be hard on him,” she reflects.

“I know, it must be awful,” I say. “Have you heard from them in the last month even?”

“Around Christmas we did,” she says. “But not for a couple weeks. I’ve always admired the way those two always set goals and went after them; and usually got ‘em,” she hangs with emphasis. “It must really be depressing not being able to land another job. They really need the insurance. I think it’s an age thing.”

“I do too. I think when he retired all of his friends retired too,” I add. “It’s a young man’s game now, and he doesn’t have any old guys to go back to anymore.”

“Or gals,” she adds.

The light changes green and we proceed through the intersection on our journey down Snake River Avenue.

“That guy needs to turn on his lights,” she scolds.

“Mmm hmm,” I say. She’s was right, of course. It’s plenty dark just before 5 o’clock this time of year. That idiot could probably do him and everyone else a favor and flip on his headlights.

“He’s 60?” I ask, still talking about Don.

“He’ll turn 61 in May,” she corrects.

“Is she still going back and forth to Montana,” I ask.

“Yeah. She stayed the night with your sister on January 2nd.”

“Carrie has always been close to them, huh,” I ask.

“Yeah. She’s like the daughter they never had.

“That’s true,” I laugh.

We both laugh a little to lighten the mood.

Driving on, we sit in silence a few minutes with the radio turned down but not completely down. Passing the restrooms at Kiwanis Park on the left, mom asks me if I agree that it looks nicer along here lately.

“Don’t you think this is looking a lot better down here?”

“Mmm hmm,” I agree, even though we can’t really see any improvement as we peer out of the truck windows into darkness. But we’ve seen it enough from memory during the daytime to backup our assessments.

“There used to be a floating barge right there,” she points. “It was a bar. A floating barge with a bar in it. It was called the Barge Inn.”

I laugh. “Really?”

“Yeah. Your dad and Gene were known to go and have a beer there every now and then.”

“Hmm,” was all I could convincingly come up with.

We turn left to go under the bridge, not saying another word until we pull up to PDQ on “C” Street.

“There’s your car,” I nod, half surprised to see it parked outside the shop. “It must be done.”

“I sure hope so. I’m getting tired of them trying to fix it.”

She thanks me and gets out of the car. I ask her if she wants me to wait, just to be sure.

“No. If it’s not done I’ll just bring it back down another time.”

We wave goodbye.


The next conversation I “spied” on was at home that same night. I have three kids, ages 14, 12, and 6. Two girls and a boy. Writing down everything they said and how they said it was an impossible task. I scribbled as fast as I could, but they flip from subject to subject with each passing breath. I only catch one actual conversation.

Owen, 6, is packing a thick book around, “reading it” he claims. He’s the baby in the family and always handy for comic relief, as the youngest often are. A brown eyed child with blonde hair, he is all boy and spends most of his free time outside or playing the Wii whenever he can. Packing around the book was a little odd even for him.

“Owen, what’s your book about,” Lainey asks as she folds her arms and raises a chin with one quizzical eyebrow.

“It’s about a guy on a horse and he’s riding to a kingdom,” Owen answers politely. We all know Owen isn’t really reading, but looking at the pictures. He can read a little as 1st graders often can, but not thick books with more than 11 words on each page. “And you have to be four feet tall to get into the kingdom.”

“How far have you read, Owen?” Lainey presses him even further. Her tone of voice tells everyone in the room where she’s going with the line of questioning. She waits, like a cold litigator badgering a witness on the stand in some courtroom.

Lainey, 12, is notorious for her utter lack of interest in reading (much like her father was at the same age). The arts are her passion; academics not so much. Singing or performing in front of an audience is her “on” switch. Lainey deplores the thought of reading. She hates it. And to get her to read takes a great deal of mental strategy on her parents’ part. Intimidation. Consequences. Punishment. Lost privileges. Like Chinese handcuffs, that classic booby prize toy where you stick a finger in each end, the more she fights the harder it becomes for her to escape. For her, pressing her little brother like this is just an imitation of how her parents pressure her. The irony is surely lost on her. But still amusing to me.

“He isn’t actually reading,” Emma chimes in as she waltzes from her room to the kitchen. “You know that, right? Don’t you?”
The two older sisters laugh together at the younger boy.

Emma, 14, is preparing to leave for a friend’s house. She’s a straight A student in junior high school. Her life is a series of comings and goings between school, games, dance, sleepovers, and more. A flexible social life is her reward for keeping her grades up and being responsible while she’s out of the house.

“I’m on Chapter 6 already,” Owen proudly declares. There’s that six again. It’s his world, everything measured in sixes.

“Six chapters in two minutes?” Lainey is skeptical.

“YES!” Owen crumples a little under the weight of his lies. Throwing the book down, he leaves the room in almost a full blown tantrum.

“YEAH RIGHT!” Emma and Lainey laugh in unison.

“You’re just looking at the pictures.” With that, Lainey excuses the witness.

It’s quiet for a few moments as I document the exchange. Owen, who went downstairs, suddenly arrives again somber and centered.

“Will you guys be a little more respectful to me? Please?”


We gathered our things up and went to Starbucks Saturday afternoon around 1 P.M. I wanted to see if any loud talkers were within earshot at the corporate coffee house in town. Emma brings her study guide and textbook for a semester science final, while Lainey brings a couple books to read (or, more likely than not, not read).

Starbucks is busy, and a lot noisier than I realized before. I needed to take notes, so of course that would be more difficult now. Every square inch of the place is planned to maximize customer experience and profits. They have nice desks, soft chairs by the doors, muted colors on the wall arranged and offset to compliment one another, artistic pieces hanging about, music you don’t recognize but like a lot, a nice assortment of retail items and other wares placed by each exit and along the counters where orders are taken. We find the big table waiting for us, which is perfect for our group’s multi-tasking needs. I ask them what they want and go order, leaving them to get situated for the next hour. Lainey is on my heels no sooner than I leave demanding a cookie.

“Fine,” I say. “I don’t want you bugging me about lunch and how hungry you are until we go. OK?”

“OK, dad,” she says. “I am hungry, though.”

“Zip it.”

The counter is free. In addition to the warm feel of the place, it’s also ripe with afternoon beverage lovers, friends, mothers, daughters, new babies, couples, a pug and his owner, students, and the like. So many people are talking I can’t hear one over the other. It’s just as well. I have more writing to do anyway.

Emma is clearly having a nice time. Focused, she’s already halfway through her notes by the time I get back with a chocolate chip cookie, two small hot cocoas, and my venti (Starbucks for large) Pike Place with a little half-and-half stirred in to minimize its over-the-top boldness.

At first Lainey wasn’t going to share the cookie.

“Break some off for your sister, Lainey,” I ask like the grown up in charge.

Lainey sighs heavily and rolls her eyes in the direction of her older sister.

“Thanks!” Emma says.

We sit for a few moments doing our own thing. My notebook is out and a pen just in case I hear some dialogue to write about.

“This is fun,” Emma says. “It’s cool in here. It would be fun to come here with my friends and talk.”

“Or study maybe, huh?” I say.

She laughs.

“You should call your crew and meet them all here at this table,” I offer.

“You should text them, Emma,” Lainey suggests.

“Sure, text them,” I laugh a little. “Text them all and your daddy will go pick them up.” We share another laugh together.

Emma’s head is buried in her text book again, trying to find out what happens in an automobile engine that turns chemical energy into _______. Lainey is concentrating on all the people in the place.


Monday, January 17, 2011

A vixen named Clarity

She is one of those words in bold print on the pages of your life story. Clarity. It means having the quality of being certain or definite. Clear. Her only purpose, as it relates to how we process the world around us, is to convey that this -- whatever this is -- is important.

Routine becomes vague; the path familiar; the pace: machine-like and automatic; the challenges many; the needs plenty. Each a mind-numbing blend of details, niceties, particulars, minutiae, and noise.

Clarity is a not-so-gentle speed-bump as you travel in the blight of trivial consciousness, sleepwalking through life, asleep at the wheel.

She's a near miss with that innocent deer jumping in front of the car. Lord knows why the deer was up at 2:00 AM, roaming the shadows so close to the highway. Maybe it was having a bad night, or making a break for it ahead of hunting season, chasing a dream to be a movie star someday, or wandering the moonlit landscape in search of its true love. It matters only to the deer. What matters to you, on the other hand, is you nearly just crapped yourself into cardiac arrest. Thank you, Clarity.

"What the HELL!?" Slowing down, you scour the darkness for Bambi. Satisfied it's gone, and was alone, you catch your breath and speed up again, cautiously, all the while shaken and very much wide awake now. "I hate you, Clarity."

"Good, you survived," she giggles. "Ya know... if you insist on driving at this absurd hour then you won't mind if I stimulate you a bit. You're welcome, by the way. There's a rest stop just up ahead (not that I recommend stopping at an isolated rest stop in the middle of the night). Fool."

Clarity is like that. She's not a lady, not proper, not polite, not considerate, or even kind. She hangs around and keeps to herself, mostly; but strikes in an instant to demand your attention. Right now. Now like a lapful of warm vomit. And still, other times, miraculously, she has your back, coming to your defense in the nick of time. "I love you, Clarity."

You see, good or bad, timing is her calling card.

She can be small, like the first whiff of sour milk; realizing that your fly has been open all morning; a cold swimming pool; burning yourself while cooking; a high five; a beautiful woman; adorable puppies; a good meal; a handshake; or even a hug. And a lot more.

She can be a medium sized routine buster, like losing your wallet; getting mugged; last games; winning shots; saying yes; taking a chance; taking an English class; moving; quitting; victory; or defeat. And even more.

She is mindful of the big things too, like births; deaths; first kisses; honesty; giving up; getting up; believing in God; giving yourself credit; silver anniversaries; broken marriages; long lost friends; close companions; or even intimacy. And others, of course.

She even invites us along as voyeurs into other peoples' tragedy -- where we can feel lucky and sorry at the same time -- like Arizona gunshots seeking out random targets in a crowd; terrorism; war; genocide; violent crimes; domestic abuse; missing children; a burning home; natural disasters; sinking ships; falling planes; exploding shuttles; interstate pileups; financial collapse; and lives lost. All those moments you can’t believe your eyes or ears or convictions.

Shock and confusion is the package Clarity puts on a FedEx truck to that place called the bleeding edge of your very own awareness. "Hearts and Skulls. XOXO. Love, Clarity."

Figure it out. Process it. Use it. This matters.

She may be a vixen, but Clarity is also the very best guide you'll ever have, just tagging along as you fumble your way through a noise filled existence.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Naive is a French word

I was 22, a hopeful man, polished, well practiced, and ahead of my time -- all those great things young fools attribute to themselves as granted and obvious, but none of those things ever being earned by doing a life sentence within the confines of a man's life. I was ready to conquer the world, but the world was busy and had better things to do.

Naive is a French word; perhaps you've heard of it.

Early on, that life sentence lacked anything compelling enough to write about, so, quite simply, I didn't.

I'll be 42 this spring, a pessimistic man who is not polished, not well practiced, and mentally bruised from the time and place called the present -- all those things that older men never intended to become, but became nonetheless.

Blasé is another French word; perhaps you live it.

I'm hoping to get unstuck a little at this point. My first step was to start writing a blog. It's random, therapeutic, and excitingly fun dusting off a forgotten skill-set. My next move is signing up for a writing class at Lewis-Clark State College. Nearly two decades have unfolded since my last serious exposure to collegiate level English classes, so it'll be a shock -- a most welcome shock -- to the relaxed writing style you occasionally encounter here.

Time to light a fire under Chris.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Pattern says... Green

The Pattern says...

...that Green is the one. It's the color now. After decades of social re-engineering, focused on the promotion of color-blind attitudes that pressure us all to rise above bigotry, to diminish cultural diversity, to only see color -- any color -- in a positive light, we now have impeccable Green.

Green is, well... golden. Ordained. Universally recognized. Politcally correct. Safe. Intelligent. Preferred. Marketable.

Are you Green? Do you think Green thoughts? Why not? Are you a redneck? Don't you care about energy? Don't you care about trees? Or rain forests, timber lands, rivers, lakes, and ponds? Do you live in a red state? Has anyone ever heard of the color Green where you live?

Do you even know why... Green?

The pattern says our world won't survive your ignorance. Can't you see that Green is the only vision that stands between mankind and a volatile Mother Earth, who chokes day after day on capitalism, gets trampled under by the heavy healed boot of free enterprise, and muddles by just this side of crumpling apart like a fragile leaf dangling above a fiery abyss?

Green is our only hope, but only if each one of us believes in Green. Can the vile wickedness of man be smited back behind the point of no return? Can Green deliver us all from ourselves?

On death's door Mother Earth remains like a battered whore looking for a way out, for mercy between bitch slaps, bruised and bleeding, hopeless and lost. To have given so much for nothing in return. Hanging by a thread, holding to a whisper, clinging to a small miracle.

The Miracle of Green.

Tragedy awaits us all if we fail... if we fritter away these last days to Think Green with all of our hearts and all of our minds. Mother Earth's wrath will lash out with her last breath and destroy all those who didn't believe in the Religion of Green. The oceans will run red because too many sinners didn't repent and recruit, or couldn't comprehend the Gospel-like tracts plastered in newsprint and glossy magazines, or grasp the many sermons of the televangelists/pundits on cable and network news, or didn't commune with each other at the alter of human fulfillment called public broadcasting.

The blame goes to all of the small thinkers and lost among humanity who tuned a blind ear to pet policies and clowned corporate nobility. Unmoved by the pioused politicians and evil CEO's in matching suits: once mortal enemies, but now equal shareholders in the plundering possibilities of Green. Villain or saint, it matters not to they, the rich bastards. For sale is your goodwill toward Green...

.... so the Pattern says.