Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Running Home In the Dark

There Are Monsters In The Woods

Changes in your life come at odd times. Often they are unexpected. Epiphanies that paint everything that comes after in a different light.

I don't recall the first one I had. But I recall one of the earliest.

I was living in Southern California in the late 1960s. We used to call it life in the fishbowl. My brother and I grew up on military bases. There wasn't any crime, political unrest, or domestic violence on a military base. Everything was orderly and neat. So we all got to stare out at the rest of the world as though we were in a fishbowl. The Vietnam War protests, the summer of love, Woodstock, Martin Luther King Jr., none of these things really had an affect on us back then. We were living in the last bastion of the 1950s. It was a place of cookies in the afternoon, sleepovers and playing hide and seek until long after dark.

When I turned 12 my parents decided to send me to a week long summer camp. I realize now that this was just an excuse for getting me and my brother out of the house so my parents could have some quality alone time. But for me it was a big step. I had never been away from family for that length of time. I was scared but at the same time I was also excited.

As it turned out, I really liked the whole camping thing. You got to stay up late and sleep in a tent. The camp counselors gave us all sorts of things to do to keep us busy. We were outside in the warm southern California weather, where the smell of the dirt and grass mixed with the coastal breeze and made a subtle perfume that I can still smell in my dreams.

There were about 30 of us. We were all young boys between the ages of 8 and 12. We didn't know each other, but we bonded pretty quickly like most kids do. We were living for the moment with a short attention span and lots of sugar and carbohydrates to keep us going. It was all a dreamy blur.

On the last night of the camping weekend there was a big jamboree. It was held near the center of the camping area and our tribe put on a skit that is so traditional when boys camp out in the wild. We had no television or radio, so we had to make our own entertainment. Lord, I would love see that skit on video tape (if it had been invented back then). When it was all over, the counselors told us that the first ones back to our campsites got to light the campfires and start cooking the smores. Smores are those chocolate, graham cracker, marshmallow confections that every camping trip ends with. So we all scattered like rabbits and ran through the night back toward our tents.

I suppose that this was the height of childhood. Running like a pack of wolves through the cool evening air, heavily breathing in the summer night, flying through the darkness, not wanting to be the last one back to camp. As I ran through the trees and the tall grass I heard something. A faint scream. I slowed and turned my head and I heard it again. Even as a young boy I knew the sound or terror. It was a fearful scream and then sobbing. I stopped and started to walk back toward the jamboree area. My mind wrestled with the thought that I was going to be the last one back to camp, but I had to find something out. I was half curious, half afraid.

None of my other companions had stopped. Perhaps they hadn't heard the scream, maybe they were scared, maybe they didn't care. As I walked back a boy came stumbling out of the darkness, he was crying. When he saw me, he screamed and ran to me like a child lost in the woods. Which is what he was. He wasn't hurt, he was just scared. He had never been away from home. He was just a kid frightened of the dark. When everyone scattered toward their tents, he hadn't known the way and was left behind in his indecision.

To him, there were monsters in the woods. The Grimm's Fairy tales were still real. Some of us had learned to suppress our fear with bravado and logic. He wasn't able to do that yet. I put my arm around him and told him it would by OK. I knew what he felt like. Only a few months before I might have been him.

He tried to put on a brave face and not act scared while I walked with him back to camp, but the tears drying on his cheeks sort of ruined that charade. We were the last ones to arrive and the fire was already raging. The others were getting ready to toast their marshmallows. The frightened kid sat at the campfire and eventually joined in the comradery and laughter. We didn't speak of coming back last. He hadn't grown up as fast as the rest of us but he would catch up soon enough. He just wasn't going to catch up that night.

During that lazy California summer I realized there were more important things than running with the pack. That was a big step for a 12 year old boy. I think I understood compassion for the first time in the darkness under that starry night sky. It was the first time I started to become an individual and think for myself. After that week in the woods, I saw the world a little differently. I still do.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Everyone Needs A Family

Beach, Low Tide

The American Family is an ideal. Fostered by childhood images of 'Leave It To Beaver' and 'The Brady Bunch'. But in modern times it is more of a myth than anything else. With both spouses working, divorce, drug addictions, medical problems, peer group pressure and wanton consumerism there isn't a lot of time for family bonding these days. We all long for that place where we can go and be accepted, loved and happy but often times we lose it, sometimes when we are far to young.

As adults, we tend to find families whether we want to or not. It tends to be a subconscious thing, probably going back to the caveman days when we gathered around a fire at night for warmth and to scare away the prowling saber toothed tiger. Today, the families that we join are the ones that we are thrust into. Work clicks, the neighbors that we move next to, the military we join, or the church we might attend. Some we join of our own freewill, some we are thrust into be circumstance. Regardless, they provide us with a shared experience.

Cabana by Moonlight

The bond forged between two men in a foxhole while bullets fly over their heads has to be a pretty strong one. Two co-workers commiserating over an after hours beer lets them both know that they share the same experiences in the office. You look out for your neighbors toddlers while they play in their front yard and you hope that he does the same for yours.

But sometimes, you find family where you don't expect it. Through the shared experience that others can't know. Through shared secrets that everyone doesn't understand. Through guilt and fear.

Casa By The Sea

I am a member of one of these families. I group of friends that never intended to get to know each other. We all came together with a common theme, because not everyone could understand our past and the various journeys that had brought us together. I didn't know any of these people initially. I know them all pretty well now.

They are good people. They are honest people. They know pain, guilt and fear, and they have come through it. They haven't let it burden them. They are essentially optimists. They decided not to curse the darkness even though at times in their lives it enveloped them. They sought out others instead of a bottle or a pill.

Courtyard Fountain

When you find these sort of people, you realize it is a gift. I have known a multitude of folks that would lie to your face and steal your possessions. Folks that only cared for themselves and never really loved anybody. All of the people in this family have known them to. They have been touched by the callous and indifferent and have resolved not to let the same thing happen to others. If only the whole world could be like this.

Once a year, 40 of us gather. We all pool our money and head toward Mexico like migrating birds. There, in a lavish sprawling house on a beach, we spend 3 days, sunning, reading, eating and drinking with wild abandon. Some folks think it is just some sort of party club filled with drunken debauchery and lured behavior. These folks couldn't be more wrong. It is a time of acceptance without fear, of fellowship without hate. It is a big family where we all care about each other. A better family than many I have known.

Dining Room, The Morning After

The people in this family have all been in the foxhole. We have all had things stolen from us. When we are together, we won't let that happen again. Sometimes life takes us to unexpected places that we never planned to go to. At first we think the destination is a disaster. Until we find the others that have arrived at the same destination via a different route. Eventually, through that shared experience, we find out that it is the best place to be. A small harbor in a never ending storm.

Beach Sunset

I hope you all find a family like this someday.

All Photographs Taken in
Pureto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico, 3/16/06-3/19/06

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Doing the Right Thing....

Sometimes, Doing The Right Thing Just Sucks

I hate commuting. If you live in a major urban area you probably commute. Where I lived, it just kept getting worse and worse. The drive to work was usually around 45 minutes one way. So that is an hour and thirty minutes of my life sucked away from me just so I could get to an office and work for someone else. It was driving me nuts and the older I got, the more I felt that my quality of life was slipping away from me.

So I started taking the bus to work. This required a bit of a change in lifestyle but I found that the extra effort was well worth it. While I didn't get to work any quicker, I could basically 'zone-out' on the bus ride and just close my eyes an listen to my headphones. The reduction in stress alone was worth getting up earlier and making the mile long walk to the bus stop in the dark.

I enjoyed these walks. The path from my home to the bus stop wandered through a residential neighborhood. It was often cool and dark on my way there. There was no traffic noise or sirens and the news vulture helicopters had not yet left their launch pads. It was a quiet time when the world seemed much slower and more relaxed. During these walks I could be alone with my thoughts and contemplate my job, my marriage, my health, the whole meaning of life.

It was during one of these walks that I ran across him. Half way between my house and the bus stop he came scampering out of some bushes by the sidewalk. A little Labrador puppy. He couldn't have been more than 2 months old. I stopped in my tracks and smiled at him as he walked up to me with no fear and started to sniff my shoes. I stooped down and patted his head and his tail wagged as he slobbered all over my hand with his tongue.

He must have been lost or had escaped through an open back yard gate. I wondered how long he had been laying in the bushes, during the cold night with no one to play with. He rolled on his back and gently gnawed on my fingers as I rubbed his stomach. I must have been his savior that morning. The person that was going to make him wanted and loved again.

After a minute of bonding with the little fellow, I had to get back on my journey to the bus stop or I would miss the bus, which would make me an hour late for work. This is when the problem started.

You see, the puppy didn't know I had to go to work. He didn't have any concept of the world outside his back yard. He followed behind me, nipping at my heals and begging to be petted some more. This wasn't good I thought. If he follows me too far before getting bored with me, he will be too far away from home and will really be lost. And the closer we get to the main street where the bus stop is, the more likely he could be run over by a car. I stopped and pushed him away told him "NO" in a very firm tone. He just looked at me, cocked his head and continued to wage his tale.

As I started out again for the bus stop, he once again started following me, tail waging. "Jesus", I thought. If I picked him and took him back home I will be late for work. If I let him keep following me he could get killed. There was only one thing I could think of to do.

I turned around and kicked him. He let out a little yelp and sat down looking at me with those big puppy-dog eyes. "Why did you do that?, don't you like me anymore?" they screamed.

I started off again and once again he started to follow me, but his tail wasn't wagging as much. I stopped, turned and kicked him again. Again he yelped and sat down. "NO", I yelled.

I turned and starting walking again. After several yards I looked over my shoulder and he was still sitting there, looking at his savior disappear into the darkness.

I arrived at the bus stop just in time to catch the bus. I sat down, put on my head phones and thought to myself, "What a great way to start the day.".

All day long it nagged me and I tried to convince myself that his family had found him and that he was playing in his back yard somewhere while planting hundreds of puppy-dog kisses all the child that he had been purchased for. At least I hoped so.

I took the bus home that evening and walked the same route as I had done that morning. There was no sign of the little fellow anywhere. I arrived home and my wife asked me how my day had been.

"Great", I said...."It started off with me having to kick a puppy."

Friday, March 3, 2006

Nostalgia Nightmares

Was The World Ever Really Like This?

This is just a link. CLICK THE PICTURE to get to the site. It is called 'Plan 59' I don't really have much to say about it, since this site pretty much speaks for itself.

Every once in a while you come across an internet site that is more fun than a good television show or book. This is one of them. All it contains is advertising media from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. A simplier time, a happier time (at least that is what you would gather form the pictures). Everyone appears happy, affluent, they all drive really, really big cars and oddly enough, they all appear to be Anglo-American.

If you have some time to waste, check it out. It is updated almost daily and is well worth a look.

To Boldly Go.....

Surrender Your Garbage Pods

I was watching an episode of Star Trek the other day. I had seen it about a dozen times, but Star Trek never really gets old. Like Gilligan's Island or CSI, you can watch it over and over. Syndicators must love these shows.

I sort of questioned why I liked watching Star Trek so much. I know that originally, it was the science fiction, gee whiz, neato, gadgetry and action, but as I grew older, my fascination with the show shifted. I found myself being 'comfortable' on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

That is when it sort of dawned on me. This show was the ultimate escape. The reality of life, especially once we have grown up and flown the nest can be pretty harsh. Taxes, traffic, alimony payments, incompetent supervisors, dead batteries all tend to make the daily struggle in the modern world pretty bleak at times.

As I watched Captain Picard order Ensign Crusher to Warp 3, it sort of sunk in. This was the perfect office. Imagine it. Going to work in a place where everyone is competent, no one is ever late, everyone has a 'can-do' attitude, you do really important things (like saving whole civilizations) and in the end, the Captain usually gets to have hot sex with some gorgeous, albeit strangely alien heroin with no fear of sexual harassment.

In contrast to the real world, I realized that through some twist of fate, I have been assigned to the Starship Garbage Skow. That long forgotten Star Fleet tug boat where all the "C" students from Star Fleet Academy are assigned to. In my world, we struggle to get the warp engines on line every day, the Chief Engineer is usually drunk, the Communications Officer doesn't show up for days, the Science Officer secretly struggles with a Rubic's Cube in his quarters and the Captain has flaming gay tendencies.

The Star Trek on television is the ideal. That place that we all wished we could be assigned to and thrive in. But alas, it is just a fantasy.

I have learned that life aboard the Starship Garbage Skow isn't really all that bad. We rarely get attacked by fleets of irate Romulans or Klingons. The tasks that Star Fleet assigns to us aren't usually that difficult and I get to spend a lot of time looking out the picture windows (that need cleaning) and watch the planet we are orbiting rotate underneath me while the Engineer tries to jury-rig a fuse to get the impulse engines back on line.

I suppose that you have to find happiness regardless of what universe you get stuck in. Life is what you make it. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go program the replicator to whip up some more cannabis and Guinness Stout.

Warp Factor 7 Mr. Smith....Engage