You can’t live in the city and expect that, while you are out & about, you will never have to endure Random Encounters with people at some point along your travels. Despite one’s best efforts, sooner or later someone is going to get themself in between where you were coming from and where you were headed… all any of us can do is Soldier through it.

As with everything else in life, these random encounters with my fellow humanoids are the equivalent of a human crap shoot… You just never know how the dice will fall. Some days you roll a 7 and some days you get snake eyes.

These pages Chronicle the delicious randomness of my attempts at minding my own business amongst my fellow riff raff on the streets and the running scorecard on how that’s working out for me.

One Last Goodbye

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I was born in Washington DC and made my way to New England when I was 20. Twenty more years and I was off to the Lone Star State at the ripe old age of 41. Eleven years after that, with my newly-divorced tail between my legs and the pittance of remaining worldly possessions the legal system let me keep having been safely stowed in a storage room, I returned to the great Northeast to set about putting the few remaining pieces of my life back together again. Nine more years… at $100 a month in storage fees… and I was finally able to catch a flight back one last time to collect my stuff. And, I was able to say one last goodbye to a place that had made a lot of dreams come true and shattered far too many to count.
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Beach fireworks : An allegory for life

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I had occasion recently to go to the beach and watch fireworks with my daughter and her family. It wasn’t a holiday… No special events or anything like that… it was in the middle of the week and we just went for no other reason than because we could. And, as anyone that knows me would tell you, I happen to possess and almost intolerable affinity for the ocean. I will seize any opportunity to spend time there in any weather, under any circumstances, for as long as anyone can stand taking me there and waiting for me to be ready to leave.

I don’t fancy myself an astrologer or anything like that, and I certainly don’t make book on my life’s plans based on any horoscope I might come across here and there around the interwebs, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit here that descriptions of me, according to my birthday, are creepy scary accurate in far too many ways to count. As such, it is easy to blame my early March birthday (Pisces) for my otherwise-inexplicable attraction to water. Long before I knew anything about such matters as astrology, I have always known that being at the ocean… or near any large body of water… is where I have been the happiest and the calmest and most relaxed. It’s as if listening to the waves kissing the sand and smelling the heavily salted air recharges my batteries somehow, and reboots my soul. My thoughts are free to wander aimlessly, untethered by the daily monotony of life, and I am somehow made whole again.

And so it was that we arrived at the beach a couple hours before sunset and settled into our spot from which we would View the show once it got dark. We did what most people do, and trundle down to the water’s edge in our bare feet looking for seashells and marveling at the beautiful view and stupid cold water temperatures. The North Atlantic, if you’ve never been, is quite chilly… even in the warmest months of the year… With temperatures that rarely rise above 60 degrees. Kids say they love it as they come back for their towel with blue skin and chattering teeth. Grown-ups that know better just simply call it stupid cold.

I felt as if I was where I was born to be, doing what I was born to do.

Looking up and down the beach it was easy to see that everyone there had come for the same reason; find a good spot and wait for it to get dark. The bikini and Speedo-clad crowd had already left for the day, and only the fireworks revelers were there now, waiting for the show to get started.

Everyone was calm and relaxed and engaged in small talk about any number of topics that you might imagine. There was laughter in some areas and quiet reflection in others interspersed with children of all ages digging and building sand castles and bickering with their siblings.

In other words, it was a gathering of people doing what gathered people do.

It occurred to me, as I sat there soaking in the conversations going on all around me and observed the folks in their own silent reflection… perhaps we charging their own souls… That maybe there was something to this hole Pisces thing after all. That maybe, just maybe, each of us – as unique spiritual beings – are drawn to our respective astrological element from time to time so that we can put ourselves back together again after long enough periods of time spent being torn into little pieces by the demands of the world around us.

It’s hard to say for sure what goes on in other people’s quiet minds, but the one thing I have come to understand about humans- fundamentally social creatures by nature – is that, every so often, we need to gather together and share common experiences – even if only for a short while – so that we might recharge our batteries before heading back into our own respective internal wildernesses.

As a hermit, I was quite anxious to return to mine… happy to leave the crowds behind… but a better, more whole hermit for having taken the time to reboot and put myself all back together again.

I video taped the fireworks show and put it up on YouTube. You might enjoy the family banter while that recording was taking place. Note the background sounds as the tide was coming in 🙂

[Images via McKennedy, TeePublic, and My Samsung phone]
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City Buzzards

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I’m one of those people that appreciates nature and all of her wonders no matter how great or small. Though not a tree hugger by any means, I do believe it is in the best interests of all of mankind that we be good stewards of the planet and all the creatures which inhabit it. However, I am also a believer in the old adage which suggests that too much of anything is not necessarily a good thing. Such is the case with seagulls… Or what I like to call City buzzards.

I googled this little factoid before I started this entry just to make sure, and was able to confirm that seagulls have been a protected migratory bird for nearly a hundred years. I think it’s safe to say, given the population explosion beyond their natural habitat into places such as urban areas and city dumps, that somebody screwed up their calculations.

Somebody should probably look into this.

I recently found myself in need of a few items at the grocery store. It was cold and overcast, but I went anyway because – I am proud to announce- I have mastered the art of dressing in layers. Besides, I told myself, it’s no big deal… It’s not windy, and it’s not supposed to snow, and there were only a few items that I simply could not live without.

And so it was that I bundled up and headed for the bus stop to wait for the next # 10 inbound. I got off at my usual spot and headed for my favorite coffee shop where I stopped to get “the usual,” before heading down a few blocks to the store.

As is routinely the case with my great good fortune, when I was almost to the door it started to snow. Rather heavily in fact. I chuckled and shook my head as I walked in, grabbed a cart, and began my hell-ride through the bumper cars sea of humanity. I gathered up my supplies (along with the compulsory extras that somehow always manage to jump into the cart when I’m not looking), and headed for the checkout lines.

Once outside the door, I pulled over to the right and began transferring the contents of the cart into my heavy duty backpack. As I was doing this, I could hear seagulls bickering with each other over some random rotten french fry or discarded piece of garbage behind me and to my left. I ignored it at first, trying to focus on the matters at hand, but it started sounding like a war was about to break out, and I couldn’t help but turn around to see what the hell was going on.

Sure enough, there was a bird bitch – fight kicking off (in the driving snow no less) right across from the bus stop. Some asshat had apparently decided it would be a good idea to dump half a bag of Cheetos onto the ground. The mess was now soggy and melting into the wet snow next to the curb, and about 10 or 15 City buzzards we’re trying to work out which of them would be cleaning up the mess.

The waiting area at the bus stop was empty when I got there, and I had about 15 minutes to wait before the number 10 outbound would arrive. Like always, I tucked my cane and backpack under the shelter and settled in to watch the shitshow that was taking place about 30 ft straight in front of me.

I had a flashback to my childhood and all of those Sunday nights that I spent watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” I laughed out loud a little at how much this feeding frenzy reminded me of all those images I saw of buzzards fighting for a spot on a carcass. Watching those seagulls made me feel bad, all over again, for that poor water buffalo that had had the great misfortune of being at the back of the line when the stampede of fear kicked off.

Before everything was said and done another 20 or 30 seagulls had joined the fray, but only a handful succeeded in getting any of the orange goo. One gull in particular – the largest of them all as far as my feeble eyes could tell – chased off most of the competition and got most of the bounty for himself.

After a lot of screeching, and several hovering laps around the parking lot to make sure he didn’t miss anything, he perched himself on the very top of a light pole… Looked right at me as if to say “what the hell do you think you’re looking at?”… and screeched a little bit more before settling himself down up there to flap – dry his wings and take a short rest.

[PostScript: Something that has always mystified me though, including all of my years spent at the ocean where Seagulls are supposed to live, is just how quickly word travels amongst and between them. I can’t for the life of me figure out how the Seagulls uptown, 15 blocks away, heard about – let alone got there in time to fight over – a big assed pile of melting Cheetos. Just a little food for thought. [sic] ]
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A Claus Confab

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Christmas is a difficult holiday for me on a number of personal levels. I keep putting off sharing some of the reasons why but I suppose, once I publish this story, I will find myself in short supply of excuses to avoid the inevitable. It may turn out, truth be told, that the further I delve into this chapter of my life – with regard the Santa Society – the more right my neurologist and occupational therapist will have proven themselves to be on this matter.

This all started innocently enough… Daisy and I were headed down to the park for our daily constitutional. Standing at the entrance to the crosswalk, Daisy at heel, Daisy saw a guy coming toward the crosswalk from the other side of the street. She “told” me that someone was coming by shifting her position and then standing up with her tail wagging; she’s not exactly a seeing eye dog but she is really good at helping me “see” things… or at least look in the direction she is looking… before things actually come into my visual field.

As he neared my side of the street, a guy around my age looked at Daisy, and then up at me, and said: “Good morning Santa.” without even thinking about it, I answered back “Good morning Santa number two.” He chuckled and I smiled as we introduced each other and he said hello to Daisy.

After a minute or two of small talk about where each of us lived, he asked me if I had ever been a Santa Claus before. I told him that, with four kids and a gaggle of grandkids, I had done a lot of “Santa time” over the years but that I had never put on the uniform and done it for strangers.

He talked for a while about a group of men that had gotten together and formed a club of sorts , adding that he was the sitting president. He told me that they all work together to find gigs for each other, promote their group, provide support, meet once a month for dinner… and share war stories… in various locations throughout the New England region. Wherever possible, some of them even bring along their Mrs. Claus’.

As it turns out, they even have a so-called “Santa Camp” at the end of the summer each year that runs for 3 days and includes training on a variety of topics aimed at helping aspiring Santa’s with marketing, business planning and – most importantly – how to be good Santa’s. There are even campfire sessions where experienced Santas mentor the newbies and share stories about their tricks and techniques… even offering to help them develop their own “schtics”. The whole thing culminates with a certification – complete with background checks – and allows you to go out on your own as a fully licensed Santa anywhere in the public domain.

I must admit that I had no idea it was so involved… I always assumed all you needed to do was grow a long beard and develop a beer belly and you were good to go. In this day and age, though, I’m happy to know such an effort is being made to keep Kids safe and maintain the dignity of the office of Santa Claus.

As our conversation was winding down, president Santa asked if I was interested in finding out more and whether I could join them for the next monthly dinner gathering that just happened to be coming up in a few days, right here in town.

[Editor’s note: It’s worth noting here that it is not lost on me just how fucking hard it is, sometimes, to be a hermit in an urban area; it seems – sometimes – that the harder I try to be left the hell alone, the more I seem to run into certain people that challenge my certainty about how widespread the decay of the human species actually is. Given what I have said above about my issues with the holidays, it should come as no small surprise that I found myself feeling a sense of excitement starting to well up inside me… reminiscent of that scene in the cartoon version of The Grinch when his “two sizes too small” heart started growing bigger in his chest as his grin slowly widened…]

Having accepted the invitation, I arrived at the Diner a few days later and was a little early. I had never been there before… strange places can be difficult for me to move around in… and the place is quite popular in town. Call it reconnaissance, if you wish, but I needed to know the lay of the land, so to speak, so I could reduce my chances of falling on my face and making a fool out of myself in front of all these people I would be meeting for the first time.

I was escorted by a waitress to a small function room where there were already a couple of Santas sitting at one of the tables. They turned and looked at me as I walk through the door and – in unison – said one word:

HO!

I never thought such a thing was possible but – in that moment – I got an overwhelming feeling but a good chunk of my life was about to be forever changed.

[PostScript: Roughly a year after my stroke, as my occupational therapist was breaking up with me & my neurologist was bumping me down to annual visits vs. monthly visits… and they were telling me that I probably had another good 20 to 30 years left to live my life (now that they had done such a bang-up job of patching me up and putting me all back together)… I asked them – separately – what the fuck I was going to do with myself for 20 or 30 years being partially blind, unable to work or drive, and barely able to live alone unsupervised.

My neurologist said, and my occupational therapist subsequently concurred, that I needed to find meaning and purpose `in my life and that the rest would take care of itself. At the time, that didn’t make a lick of sense to me but – two years beyond those conversations I now find myself writing these Chronicles and pondering a future as a professional Santa Claus… and have begun to entertain the idea that I would love to do it – not in malls or at random Christmas parties but- in childrens’ Hospital wards and Senior hospice centers.

I’m fairly certain they don’t teach this stuff in medical school so I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there are greater powers at play in our lives than we ever come to know or fully understand. Whether it be fate, karma,destiny, divine intervention… or some combination of them all… maybe – just maybe – all any of us can do is just follow the path we find ourselves on regardless whether we were looking for it or just fell down face first in front of it.] [Image courtesy of Smithsonian]

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