March 07, 2014
Second week of March, 2014
Still cloudy, windy, and cold – with a 90 % chance of rain
“Spit it out! Now!”
My mother’s command, as she held out her hand in front of my mouth.
Chewing gum was forbidden to me as a child – even into adolescence.
And if she caught me chewing gum, trouble followed.
It’s likely that she never understood that the chance to spit in my mother’s hand gave me secret pleasure.
It’s even likely that I chewed gum in her presence just to get the chance to spit in her hand.
Even more likely that I learned to chew a stick of gum until it was condensed and worn out and would snap and pop when I chewed with my mouth open.
That drove her crazy.
Which was the point of the exercise.
Why was gum such a no-no?
“Nice people do not chew gum – especially in public,” she said.
“You look like a cow chewing cud.”
And that meant I was not a nice person in her eyes – which also appealed to me – being “nice” was not my goal in life.
Besides, what she claimed was not true.
I saw a lot of “nice” people chewing gum – some of my mother’s cow-like lady friends, especially.
Chewing gum also had a quality of flirting with danger – even death.
It was common knowledge among my peers that if you swallowed your gum, it would ball up in your gut for seven years.
And that was the leading cause of appendicitis.
Not an entirely undesirable event.
Because if you had your appendix out you had to stay out of school for ten days and eat nothing but ice cream during recovery.
How bad could that be?
Unless you died when your appendix ruptured.
Working this out to avoid death took some careful planning.
But I was too careful, I suppose – I swallowed tons of gum, but still have my appendix - but any day now . . .
Don’t be surprised if my obituary mentions that gum finally got me.
These nostalgic thoughts came to me yesterday afternoon in an alley.
Post Alley – a dog-leg byway that cuts underneath Seattle’s Pike Place Market – just below the famous fish market where salmon are thrown through the air to entertain tourists.
The walls on both sides of the alley for about 75 feet are plastered with gobs of gum, inches deep – and strung into hanging gardens or molded into artistic designs.
You can smell the Gum Wall from a block away.
Nose tones of Juicy Fruit, Double Bubble, Spearmint, and exotic blends like Peter Paul’s Activated Charcoal Chewing Gum, Mango, Root Beer Float and Leechee Nut.
In every color of the rainbow – and some colors not in the rainbow.
(See it to believe it - look up Seattle’s Gum Wall – Images – on the web http://www.google.com/search?q=gum+wall+seattle&nord=1&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=A3QaU63DBYj4oAT4yIGAAQ&sqi=2&ved=0CCQQsAQ&biw=1442&bih=773)
Social research says the Gum Wall has been building for more than twenty years, and the practice has defied all efforts to remove or stop it.
Around 1993 people who were waiting in line in Post alley to go into a performance at the Market Theater started sticking their gum to the alley walls – just for the hell of it.
There must have been an Alpha Gum Sticker or maybe several.
The idea caught on – and now it’s history and a major tourist attraction.
Not only that, the wall is a favorite site for wedding photographs.
I kid you not.
My mother, and most adults would say the Gum Wall is nasty, disgusting, gross, and probably loaded with dangerous bacteria.
But if you are young - or young at heart – you will be delighted to see it and want to add your gum to the wall.
If you think about it, the Gum Wall has one of the most intense random samplings of DNA in the world.
What’s this all about?
Juvenile rebellion - adolescent foolishness - some of that, for sure.
Creativity – it’s a unique example of group performance art.
Identity – “I was there and left something of me behind in Seattle.”
Amusement – people laugh a lot at the wall – when they see it and when they stick their gum on it.
Solidarity – you become a member of the Gum Wall tribe.
Democracy – anybody can get in on the game.
Permissible mischief – sanctioned by the Market Authority – and because if you’re young – or young at heart – gross is always funny.
Wikipedia notes that we chew an average of about 300 sticks a year.
And that there is evidence that human beings have been chewing something in the gum category for 5,000 years or more.
Some form of tree sap mostly – mixed with sweetener and flavor.
And when a wad of gum is worn out, more often than not we stick it under chairs, tables, benches, desks and onto walls, trees, and utility poles – or on walls.
Even nice people do that sometimes.
Some day in the far future archeologists will puzzle over this evidence of human activity and wonder: “What were they thinking?”
And so . . .
To honor the memory of my blessed mother, and to keep my membership in the Tribe of The Young and Foolish, I’ll get to work on a big wad of gum and when it’s ripe and ready, I’ll stop by the wall later in the week and add to the glut.
I’ve just discovered bacon-flavored gum – (see the web for that. http://www.google.com/search?q=gum+wall+seattle&nord=1&source=lnms&sa=X&ei=CHQaU5X1IsrroASGhYDgDg&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAA&biw=1442&bih=773&dpr=1#nord=1&q=bacon+flavored+chewing+gum&tbm=shop)
That will be my gum of choice.
Seems appropriate – Mother always cooked with bacon grease.
(check my Facebook page for a photo: http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum)
link to this story
March 03, 2014
First week of March, 2014
Cloudy, windy, cold, 90 % chance of rain
You know about Leap Years – when the month of February has an extra day.
This is a Surge Year – when the month of February has two extra weeks.
Or so it seems judging by the weather where I live in the Pacific Northwest.
We could use a little dose of climate change.
Seattle was Whoopee-Town when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.
But it’s been Grumpy-City ever since.
Rain is good for poets, I suppose – those who are inspired by looking mournfully out into the gloom and putting angst down on paper.
But endless rain is discouraging for someone like me whose mind is inspired by being out in the world, wandering around, looking for the up-side.
And then . . . just when I was about to give up for the week, the Gods of Writing offered something so universally human . . .
THE TALE OF THE PASTEL PRINCESS
Saturday afternoon in a large, super-busy supermarket.
The place is packed.
As if a lot of people must have had the same thought after lunch:
“Well, hell, I might as well go grocery shopping – at least I’ll be out of the rain.”
All of the check-out lines are backed up four or five carts deep.
Studies show that trying to move to a faster line doesn’t really improve the odds.
So, I’m creeping along in my line, being patient.
Suddenly the line surges – the driver of one of the carts ahead of me pulls out and moves over to another line.
My line surges again.
Because the man in front of me unexpectedly peels away to another queue.
Now I’m really moving on up –there’s only one cart between me and check out.
This is good.
In the child’s seat in this cart – facing me – is a Pastel Princess – a little blonde girl zipped up in a pink snow suit decorated with sequins and teddy bears.
She was fussing and whining for a while, but now she’s all smiles.
I smile and wave at her.
She smiles, giggles, and waves back.
And at that moment an invisible cloud of sewer gas drifts over me.
This is not good.
Now I understand the quick movement of the line ahead of me.
And the reason for the contentment of the Pastel Princess.
Because she has also experienced a movement and is greatly relieved.
This explains the rancid smell of rotting fish mixed with the odor of fresh cow pies road kill and old cheese souring the air.
If we had been outside, flies would be circling over the child.
And maybe vultures circling high overhead.
The Princess has not only filled her diapers, she has blown a gastric gasket.
And the snowsuit is filled with toxic waste all the way up to her armpits and down her sleeves.
No diapers or plastic pants can contain a spontaneous combustion like this.
Do I exaggerate?
Not in the least – I’ve seen worse.
Because I’m a parent.
And if you are now or have ever been a parent, you’ve got a few colon catastrophe stories of your own.
When your time for parenting approaches you are vaguely aware that changing diapers goes with the experience.
And you nobly accept the coming responsibility.
Then you get this small, pink, sweet, soft creature that comes in its own skin bag.
A container that is not water tight.
Blood, mucus, tears, snot, urine, sweat, vomit, and raw sewage.
“The baby messed its diapers,” we say.
But this polite euphemism doesn’t come close to describing the reality.
There will be moments of disbelief and utter amazement when a child has dumped core and you are presented with fecal matter in sizes, shapes, colors, volume, viscosity, and odor quality beyond your wildest imagination.
Sometimes there are explosive events that make your eyes water, your nose bleed, and your ears ring.
Sometimes you swear you heard a sonic boom and saw flames.
I wish I had taken pictures.
As if the Diaper Derby wasn’t bad enough, there’s one more thing – and this one is not in the parenting manual – because you wouldn’t believe it could happen.
It’s called projectile vomiting.
A very small child can hose you from 6 feet away with the contents of its stomach – and do it through its nose.
And have a butt-bomb meltdown at the same time.
A lot of people don’t have a second child just because of this.
“The baby spit up,” we say.
No, the baby puked its guts out and you’re going to need a pressure washer to clean up the mess.
And you will do that.
You actually will do that.
Because you have to.
Because cleaning up the mess is what grownups do.
That’s why we say that adults don’t make babies – babies make adults.
Back to the Pastel Princess, her mom, and the checkout line.
Lots of knowing smiles and a laugh or two from all the sympathetic parents in the red zone, standing around trying not to breathe.
Been there, done that - thank God it’s her kid, not mine.
So then what happened?
Life goes on – there’s no place else for it to go..
Did the mother know what had happened?
Maybe not at the moment of melt down – she’s used to the smell.
I admired her cool.
Maybe she was in denial.
But she won’t be for long – she’s got to get the squirmy squishy kid into a bucket seat in her car and somehow get home without being asphyxiated.
She knows she can’t strip the kid and leave it out in the rain to rinse off.
link to this story
She might go for the co-parenting ploy – the chapter in the manual entitled:
Sharing the Joy - and say to husband:
“I had too much to carry - your daughter is still out in the car – would you please bring her in – maybe you should wear rubber gloves. . . .”
February 22, 2014
Third week of February 2014
Cloudy, windy, cold, rain showers
MISSING PERSON REPORT
A man I know has been Missing In Action for a week.
Not at all what he’d anticipated.
He had been looking forward to a tri-fecta weekend – a celebrational combo.
The coincidence of St. Valentine’s Day, his wife’s birthday, and the President’s Holiday on Monday – party time!
Lots of good food and wine and chocolate – getting and giving presents.
And hanging loose in the name of love.
But that’s not the way things turned out.
If a search and rescue mission had been launched he could have been found in one of two places – flat on his back in bed – or down on his knees in his bathroom woofing and shouting into the toilet bowl.
In the middle of the night he had a strange urge to get up out of bed.
AAOOOGAH! THIS IS YOUR EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM –
THIS IS A RED ALERT – THIS IS NOT A DRILL – REPORT TO THE BATHROOM IMMEDIATELY.
He did feel funny.
Like he might need to sneeze or cough.
DO NOT SNEEZE OR COUGH UNTIL YOU REACH THE BATHROOM.
What’s going on? he wondered.
YOUR VESSEL HAS BEEN BOARDED BY ALIEN TERRORISTS.
YOU ARE IN BED WITH AN IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICE:
NAMELY, YOU. MOVE IT, NOW!
Then it hit him – it’s a virus attack . . . . and
In the bathroom you would have heard him bargaining with his body:
“No, no, please, I don’t want to do this.”
“Yes, it has to be done – you’ll feel better after.
“No, I won’t – I remember the last time – the Carnival of the Bad Oysters”
“Yes, sorry, but a complete purge is necessary – everything must go.”
“Please, please . . .”
“Don’t beg – just heave – here it comes.”
“NO, No, no aaaaghhblurchahh . . .
The bargaining continued, in the spirit of denial, despair, and religious fervor.
“Thank God, that’s over.”
“Actually, it’s not.”
“There’s nothing left – I think I see my stomach lining in front of me in the bowl.”
“Sorry, but every little bit must be scoured out – take a deep breath.”
“NO, No, no, noooooo - aaaaghhblurchahh . . .”
Seven rounds later he finally stood up.
Dizzy, breathing hard, but feeling sure he had rid himself of all the toxic waste.
He could go back to bed now.
“Thank God, that’s over,” he said.
“Actually, it’s not - there’s more.”
“NO, please no.”
“Sorry, but yes. Don’t go back to bed.”
“It would upset your wife and you might have to replace the bed.”
“Oh, No . . . not that, too.”
“Oh, yes. There’s more to come. We’re not done. Everything must go.
It would be a good idea to sit down now.
Go ahead and sneeze or cough – it might help with phase 2.”
People don’t talk about this much.
Even though it’s funny in a perverse way – just not at the time.
But the total wipe-out flu does unite us in common experience.
We’ve all been there – with a light version if we’re lucky.
Microscopic suicide bombers hit without warning.
Down we go, up it comes, out it goes.
Welcome back to the Club of Gastric Events.
Fortunately for most of us our bodies have an Emergency Response Team.
The Army of the Immune System – just as amazing as the invading viruses.
While your Special Forces fight back you do what you probably ought to do from time to time anyhow:
Lie around in bed, not eating much, staring at the ceiling, and thinking.
A diet of Tea and chicken soup and Gatorade and crackers is healthy.
And bed rest is good for you.
A dose of flu has its upsides.
There’s no accusation of sloth or immorality.
You have a good excuse for taking it easy.
You have a good reason not to do things you didn’t want to do anyway.
People are nice, sympathetic, and generous in your direction.
If you were a dog you would be sent to the vet or the kennel.
But your family keeps you home and takes care of you.
Pity and compassion and sympathy and tender kindness are part of the healing.
And if you play your cards right, somebody who loves you will bring you a carton of chocolate ice cream when it’s all over.
That’s what happened to the man I know.
He found that being someone’s “Poor sweet baby.” for a few days was a pleasure. A pretty fine Valentine’s holiday after all.
link to this story
One to remember.
February 12, 2014
Second week of February 2014
Cloudy, rain showers, mild temperatures
Perspective . . .
If you had been standing on the planet Mars about a week ago at sunset you would have seen two stars in the evening sky.
One, a pale blue dot - the other, paler and white.
The dots are about 99 million miles away in the vastness of space.
Think of it . . .
Earth and Moon are the evening stars if you’re on Mars.
NASA’s Mars rover took the photograph.
Take a look (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-039). . . it’s a portrait of us - from a long, long way away . . .
Now . . . love.
Here’s a revised and edited version of one of my favorite love stories.
From my book, Maybe (Maybe Not).
Cold and gray and windy and wet outside.
And I am inside - at my doctor’s office for a checkup.
Sitting side by side across from me is an aged couple - holding hands.
They are both neat and nicely dressed.
In her white hair the woman wears a flowery arrangement.
Green holly with red berries and some red poinsettia leaves.
The old man catches my eye, breaks into a grin, and says:
What? What? What?
It’s nearly Valentine’s Day.
The old man sings softly:
“Oh, you better watch out - you better not cry – you better not pout –
I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town.”
He finishes the song, chuckles to himself, and again addresses me:
Just then the nurse sings out from behind her desk:
“Merry Christmas, Uncle Ed – the doctor will see you now.”
From down the hall the doctor calls out:
“Merry Christmas, Ed! – Good to see you”
(Right. Maybe it’s me. Maybe my mind has stripped a gear. I’m lost in a time warp. I knew this would happen someday. . .)
The nurse and Ed pass down the hall to the doctor’s office.
The old man’s wife crosses over to sit by me.
She pats me on my knee, and explains:
“I hope Ed didn’t upset you. The doctor says he’s had a minor stroke or two – and might be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s – but I know he’s just getting old and feeble and worn down.
He’s eighty-eight - and his wiring is coming loose.
Most of the time he’s OK, but every once in a while something a little crazy happens. Like this . . . Christmas thing.”
“A couple of years ago he shouted down from upstairs that he’d forgotten it was Christmas Eve – and we had better get the ornaments out and start wrapping gifts.
I didn’t know what to think.
Because it was early March.
But . . . we didn’t have anything else to do that day . . . and I thought I might as well humor him and go along with his state of mind.
“So we spent the morning getting ready for Christmas.
I called the girls – we have three grown daughters – and they came over for lunch and helped untangle the strings of lights for the tree.
We sang carols and made cookies.
We had a wonderful time.
“When the girls left he asked me to tell him about Christmas when he was a boy – because he was having a hard time remembering.
Well . . . I’ve known this man all my life . . . and he had a terrible childhood – father was a drunk who abused both him and his mother.
Then the father ran off with a woman he met at a drugstore, and his mother took sick and stayed home in bed most of the time.
You see, Ed never really had a Christmas when he was a child.
How could I bring all that up again?
I just didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.
“We’ve been married sixty years – and I’ve never lied to him – never.
But I decided I’d just make up some good memories for him.
What harm would it do?
“So I told him about the year he got a tricycle.
And the year there was a wind-up train under the tree.
And the time when he got to be in the Christmas pageant at church.
I told him he had the part of an angel.
That was easy to imagine because he’s always been an angel to me.
And I told him he got to talk to Santa Claus, too.
It made him very happy – my remembering the Christmases he never had but always wanted.
“You know, we never did get around to actually celebrating Christmas. We just had Christmas Eve.
Because by evening his mind was back in the present.
The good memories seemed to be enough.”
“Four months later it happened all over again.
I heard him singing carols one morning and here he came down the stairs - ‘Merry Christmas!’ he shouted.
This was in July.
And it happened again in October.
Twice more in early December.
And now . . . here in February just before Valentine’s Day.”
“ Every time he wants me to tell him about his childhood again.
And I do. I’m getting so good at lying about how wonderful his Christmas used to be that I half believe it myself.
I call the girls every time and just say Merry Christmas - and they right come over ready to celebrate.
They’re really into it now – they bring him presents and sing carols and bake cookies – and tell him more stories of Christmas that never was.
Once we even got so far as putting up a tree!
They love to do it – because they love him.
They don’t think of these times as celebrating Christmas.
They think of it as Father’s Day.
Just then Ed came shuffling back up the hall.
He and the nurse were finishing off a last chorus of “Jingle Bells.”
They both shouted Merry Christmas at me.
And I shouted Merry Christmas right back at them.
The old lady patted my knee again, smiled, and rose to leave with Ed.
He gallantly held the door open for her, and off they went.
I guess they had presents to wrap . . .
I didn’t have time to ask her what they did when other holidays came up.
link to this story
But I guess every day is Valentine’s Day for them.
February 06, 2014
First week of February 2014
Clear and cold
Yes, of course I went to the Seattle Seahawk’s victory parade on Tuesday morning – along with 700,000 other people – the city essentially shut down in the name of YES!WE’RE WINNERS!
I’ve never seen a Seahawks game and it was below freezing outside.
So why did I go to the parade?
I thought it a historic event and wanted to be there – not so much as a football fan but as a fan of progress in human affairs.
If you look up the Seahawk’s team roster, you will see that all but four of the players are young, Black, and incredibly gifted as athletes.
And they are our heroes – our team.
That the city would turn out to celebrate them is remarkable when you think about this country’s racial past. . .
All Seattle was in history’s parade on Tuesday.
Now for something completely different.
TRUE LOVE STORY
The early warning signs of the oncoming Valentine tsunami abound.
Hearts and flowers, red and white, lace and chocolate, greeting cards.
Here comes LOVE – the Holiday of the Heart.
Commercialized, marketed, and hyped to the max.
Don’t misunderstand me– an annual cultural focus on love is good.
That Valentine’s Day is overwhelming is in keeping with its focus.
Love is mostly overwhelming in one way or another, sooner or later.
Everything anybody thinks or says or does about Love is true for them.
And who has not been washed over by the Love tsunami?
Alas, it’s hard to write anything new or original about Love.
But it’s in the air and can’t be ignored - nor should it be.
Just about everything I have to say about Love was included in my book, True Love, and as the celebration day approaches, I began to be anxious about what to post in this journal.
My problem was solved by Mark Griffin.
He’s a professional jeweler and writer who lives and works in Palm Desert, California.
He writes in the persona of K Ram Niffrig (his name in reverse.)
And I admire his imaginative creativity.
He sent me the following anecdote, which has everything a good Valentine’s Day story should have – it’s short, sweet, sentimental, funny, and true.
This story came to mind when you posted the picture of your new great-granddaughter.
K Ram Niffrig here. I am a fictitious character from the book: You Never See a Dead Cat Up a Tree by Mark Griffin, my alter ego. This little incident actually happened just last week.
I was in my usual fog as I walked into the Parker Town General store when I came face to face with this adorable little curly-haired blue-eyed baby girl sitting in a shopping cart with a huge smile, waving at me.
I smiled and waved back.
And as I did, she giggled and said, “Hellooooo, I looooove you.”
Saturated with sweetness, I laughed, wiped a tear, and turned around with my heart all filled with warmth just as she turned to three other people and repeated the “Hellooooo…..
My heart deflated a bit when I realized that I wasn’t the only object of her affection, but I was still feeling pretty good when I ran into her and her grandmother in the check-out line.
Her grandmother said to me with a smile, “She’s only 15 months old. Those are the only words she can say so far. She learned it from my daughter’s parrot.”
Happy Valentine’s Day !
To you, the baby girl, the grandmother, and the parrot.
* * *
PS: One more love story – about rhino love.
Last spring I had the chance to get up-close and personal with a lady Indian rhinoceros in the zoo at Plsen in the Czech Republic.
Photos of the encounter were posted on my Facebook page.
The lady was pregnant at the time.
And the zoo was in a state of high anxiety over the situation because not many first-time rhino births are successful.
Now comes the good news.
The baby was born alive and well, and the mother is most maternal in her care of her love child.
You can see pictures of the newborn posted on my Facebook page.
The baby looks like a bizarre piece of expensive luggage.
Moreover, you can see a video of the actual birth and first minutes of life as the mother encourages it to stand in her loving rhino way.
Take a look (click through the first three photos to find the video at number 4). http://plzen.idnes.cz/foto.aspx?r=plzen-zpravy&c=A140203_155106_plzen-zpravy_pp
* * *
link to this story
Hadn’t planned on parrots and rhinos in a posting on love, but that’s the way love is – right? – unpredictable.