Lynchganistan

I never wanted this old place.

The first time I stood out in the yard and heard a rooster crowing over the hill, I wondered what kind of “Green Acres” vision of hell I’d signed on for.

Buying a house wasn’t my idea at all, but was something my then-wife wanted. She wanted to put down roots and it was hard to deny her. She’d grown up a modern day gypsy with parents who moved their three girls around a lot.

They’d seen the kind of poverty that sounds like science fiction in stories until someone shows you the places where they’ve been and gets that funny look in their eye –nostalgia.

They lived in beat down houses, half-starved sometimes and once spent a summer sleeping in tents by Summersville Lake.

My then wife wanted a place of her own, a place to put down roots. I’d had that. I’d grown up mostly middle class, been raised in a house I’d mistaken for being somehow lacking compared to those owned by the parents of my wealthier friends. I’d never gone hungry or worried about staying warm.

Of course, I argued against buying anything at first.

I wanted to pull up stakes and move on. I’d already lived in West Virginia 10 years longer than I intended. I wanted to go somewhere closer to the sea or somewhere near a big city. I wanted to go out west or go south. I wanted to try something, anything else.

We got the house anyway.

To be fair, she hadn’t thought much of the house either. It was too close to civilization, too comfortably nestled on a street with other people. She wanted a nice, big farm with acres to explore and plenty of space for her to write and paint.

I didn’t disagree with these ideas. I’m a writer. I wanted inspiration and I’d made noises about being self-sufficient, about raising a proper garden, about being a gentleman farmer of some kind, but they were just noises. I was, at heart, a child of the suburbs, who liked grocery shopping, pizza delivery and reliable phone service.

Still, this house was better than the place she’d wanted, but could not buy, which had terrified me. When I looked at it, all I saw was endless work, work I could not keep up with and would not survive.

I’d have rather had a small place in town with a little yard that I could mow in half an hour or could plant a few tomatoes in buckets.

The house we ultimately bought seemed like a reasonable compromise. It was 16 minutes from town, though only two minutes from a gas station that sold aspirin, bread and beer. In less than 10 minutes I could be at a grocery store or a library.

There was space. The house sat on 2/3 an acre of land. There were neighbors, but not too many. Somewhere off in the distance, there was that rooster and at dusk, right after we moved in, I watched a group of deer pull apples off a tree across the road.

It wasn’t what either of us wanted, but it wasn’t bad. It would do.

We signed our names on the mortgage, bought some second-hand furniture and moved in. Two weeks later, we figured out our marriage had quietly died in the long, dark night of double shifts, post-graduate classes and trying to make ends meet.

There’d been very little argument either before, during or after. We’d both been absent, and without noticing until it was too late, she’d fallen in love with somebody else.

I didn’t want to fight about it.

Neither of us had been happy in a long time.

We tried to be diplomatic. We divided up the house, looked for reasons not to be home at the same time, and tiptoed around each other. When we were both at the house, which wasn’t much, I hid in a backroom and binge watched “The Wire.”

Out of the blue, the owner of the place she wanted to buy called and asked if she was interested in renting.

It seemed like a weird nod from a higher power.

She moved out and I didn’t make it past the third season of the show. I still haven’t seen the end, but I have an aversion to finales.

It has been seven years now.

I have lived in that house longer than I’ve lived anywhere else during my adult life. Depending on the day, I hate or love the house. It costs too much, but is less expensive than what some of my coworkers pay for a couple of rooms in town.

All of the major appliances are nearly as old as I am and not doing well. I can’t afford to replace any of them and lack the skills to do more than nurse them along.

I like having the freedom to make noise, keep pets and dig anywhere I want. I hate cutting grass, bamboo and shoveling snow.

I like that there’s space between myself and the people next door. We know each other’s names and wave when we pass, but we’re not friends. We’re only a community because of geography. We do not speak much.

From time to time I talk about selling the old place and moving on. I’ve actually tried to sell the house a couple of times, but the realtor wasn’t all that interested and there are plenty of nicer places for sale in the area for about the same price.

Some days, owning the place feels like a millstone around my neck. I can’t get rid of it.

But I have no idea where I would go, if I could.

 

 

Red Jackets

I joined the Kanawha Kordsmen a year ago. It was as much a surprise to them as it was to me. I would never have imagined it a few years ago.

I became acquainted with them through my column. It was possibly the best thing I did during Year Two, though stand up comedy was pretty good, too.

I stayed partly for the opportunity to do something musical and also for the company. They’re a great bunch of guys who never fail to make me feel welcome.

One of the things I like about the Kordsmen is we’re pretty diverse –very different careers, education levels and personal histories. The group has church pastors, telecom executives, college professors and laborers. We have Jews, Atheists and Christians. We have gay men, an African-American from New England who loves hockey and a former Marine who will tell you he’s crazy.

I like that I say “We.” I’m part of it.

Singing with them does me more good than I would have thought.

I think part of that has to do with deliberately making something in common with other people. I think a lot of us stick with just the people we already have some connection with. The people we work with become our friends in the same way we made friends in school. We become friends with people who share an interest –like fishing or gardening or writing. We meet in a place we think is the middle.

With the Kordsmen, I met them somewhere else.

I’m not much of a singer.

For years, I didn’t do much more than sing in the car with the radio. It was a big deal for me to step beyond that, and I read music like a kid in kindergarten reads Shakespeare, which is to say badly, if at all. Most of the time I can figure out if I’m supposed to be high or low or somewhere in the middle, but the specific locations of what’s in the high, the low or the middle eludes me.

With quite a bit of practice I’m getting modestly better, but for a while, I wasn’t really attending rehearsals consistently. I’d come every other week or every third week. The job was eating up a lot of time. With the bankruptcy and sale, I felt drained and just didn’t have much left at the end of the day.

I came into (briefly) a small sum of money (not a fortune), but it helped pay off a couple of minor, though nagging credit cards. I paid my taxes, took care of my son’s boy scout camp fees, restocked my refrigerator and covered my yearly membership to the Kordsmen.

Those red jackets cost money.

But I didn’t go to the annual convention. I did that last year. I had the best time. I got to share a moment on stage with a bunch of very supportive guys and we sang our hearts out.

It was sort of magical when we won our division and were named “most improved.” I got to be part of that. My being there didn’t hurt them. I might have even helped a little.

This year, I knew I wasn’t going right after Mom died.

I missed most of the rehearsals leading up to the convention and I was only barely listening to the learning material. So, I opted out of the convention. It was the right thing to do, though we won. We won in a new, improved division, the division I helped get them to last year.

I am so proud of that.

So, this week was my first real night back after everything. They welcomed me back in the circle to stretch and sing. They told me it was good to see me again and cheered when Ron announced that I’d signed up for another year.

Rehearsal was awkward. I bumbled my way through “Lazy Day,” a song written by some full-on, pipe smoking hippie back in the 1960s. I like the arrangement. I actually like the barbershop arrangement more than I like the original radio hit.

The original was part of the Papa’s Pizza soundtrack, one of the songs played every third Saturday night on the oldie’s station we listened to at the restaurant where I worked.

I’m pretty sure the radio station recorded half a dozen of a syndicated show called “Solid Gold Saturday Night,” which featured the over saturated soft rock songs of the 60s and 70s.

It wasn’t a bad show, mostly innocuous. They just played the same shows over and over, thinking nobody would notice.

At some point during the two and a half years of working Sundays at the pizza parlor, the radio station must have lost a couple of those tapes.

I still can’t listen to “Sugar Shack” without wanting to light myself on fire.

Anyway, I sang and got a couple of looks from people. I was out of tune and didn’t know the material. I have a long way to go, but I made it back. It was good to be back and nice to be among people who said they missed me.

 

 

Tone 3.

This is the last of the list of things I’d like to do in 2018.

48 -Try all 31 flavors (it seemed whimsical and totally within my ability to accomplish. So far, I have like eight flavors).

49 -Plant more fruit trees (Like every other homeowner, I have an ongoing battle with my property. Fruit trees seem like a nice addition. I like fruit).

50 -20 lunches outside (Just a general idea of getting outside of my office during the day a bit more).

xx51 -Try honey mead (It was just some weird alcohol I hadn’t tried. I had some. It wasn’t much to be impressed with. I expected sweet, it tasted sort of vinegary with some herbal notes).

52 -Moisturize (Just a pledge to take better care of myself)

53 -Take Dad to Frost Top (I thought this would be cool, a little trip to do while my Dad was in town from Michigan. He didn’t seem all that impressed. So, we didn’t go).

54 -Paint my bedroom (It’s sort of dull in here and I suppose I’ve been here long enough that I should consider making the house more to my liking).

55 -Learn to skate (I totally did this. I know how to ice skate now).

56 -Find two cool, new Captain America t-shirts (I have 11 currently, but a couple of them are getting pretty threadbare).

57 -Enjoy coffee more (Sometimes the best part of my day is a cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon).

58 -Got to a zoo (I haven’t been to one in years).

59 -Write a will and obituary (I did this. Maybe I should post it sometime).

60 -Go stargazing (I became a fan of looking at the night sky a while back. It soothes me and fills me with a sense of wonder, but I’ve never looked at the sky through a good telescope. I’ve always wanted to).

61 -Make salsa from scratch (I have tomatoes and peppers growing in the widow. I have seeds for cilantro. I should get some onions).

62 -Learn to ride a motorcycle (Kind of overdue).

63 -Build a comic book collection (That is coming along, but it’s an easy one).

64 -Acquire a tractor tire (This is really good for exercise, but I have no idea how to transport one in my Chevy Cruze).

65 -Be a lot more forgiving (I’m trying really hard to let go of old grudges and be less judgemental).

66 -Make better plans for the holidays (This was added after the disaster that was New Year’s Eve, but so far, nothing has really meshed well. Valentine’s Day was rough. The plan came apart. Easter happened, but it wasn’t really any fantastic. I’m still working on it).

67 -Go to different flea markets, pawn shops and thrift stores (I like thrift stores, but I recognize where I go is sort of played out).

68-Write lewd haiku and distribute (I haven’t done much with this).

69 -Compliment someone different every day (I get this one most days).

70-Get stuff done.

 

Where I am.

I stood on the scale and closed my eyes as the nurse read the number. I winced. I knew things had gotten bad again. I just didn’t know how bad.

Some people drink when they’re under stress; or they smoke. I think we all find some way to self-medicate when we feel awful. I eat. I binge in the evening and then mindlessly snack until bedtime.

“Dad, you eat, like, enough for four people,” my son tells me.

Sometimes, I do, and I’ve been under a lot of pressure for a very long time.

For great chunks of time. I can offset the calories with exercise. It’s a perverse take on the old weight loss equation –take in less than you burn up. Instead, I burn up as much as I take in –or I did.

I’d go to the gym, pump iron, I’ll swim, walk or trot. I’d find chores that kept me active, that kept the weight at bay, but with the looming bankruptcy of my newspaper followed by news that it was likely going to be sold to a company with a reputation for slashing jobs and cutting services to churn out what would barely pass as a free shopper paper, I felt crushed by forces I had little control over.

Either way it came down, it was going to be hard. If I lost my job, bankruptcy and ruin seemed right around the corner. If I kept my job, I’d be pushed to do more than I already did, which is often in the neighborhood of too much.

Add to that, I already wasn’t sleeping well. I felt isolated and alone. Things at home were chaotic. Money kept getting tighter and I couldn’t see a way out.

Then my mother died.

Mom had been sick for a while, longer than the time she’d been at the nursing home in Virginia. Before her stroke, she’d fallen down a couple of times. My sister, Laura, told me that Mom’s hip was probably going to need to be replaced. Her back was a problem, too, had been for decades.

Mom hadn’t take care of herself. She’d been defiant of her diabetes for a couple of years, ate whatever she wanted regardless, and her weight had always been awful.

She didn’t exercise. Her weight, back and hip made it hard for her to walk much more than the length of a shopping mall and back.

After the stroke, Mom’s health began to steadily disintegrate. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Her diabetes became more difficult to control. She struggled sometimes to even breathe. Then in the last year, she’d had a couple of incidents where she’d gone unresponsive and had to be brought back around in a hospital emergency room.

Her death wasn’t a surprise, but it was still a shock. I’m still living with it –the grief and the guilt of it.

For most of her time at the nursing home, Mom shared a room with a delusional old woman who sometimes babbled out of her head and out of her time.

The room they shared was smaller than my college dorm room, and Mom spent most of her time watching television. She’d used to love to read, but reading was harder for her now, and she couldn’t really do the old math puzzles like she had before.

I hated visiting. The facility unnerved me. Sometimes, you could hear residents up the hall, out of their minds, screaming until they were hoarse. Others, hollow-eyed and silent, would creep the hallways in their wheelchairs, peering through open doors to gawk and stare.

My mother’s declining condition frightened me. We struggled to find things to talk about sometimes. Mom’s world had shrunk considerably and I couldn’t stretch out my life for longer than a couple of hours.

I didn’t go as often as I should have and I didn’t call nearly often enough.

Mom died and these are the things I think about a lot.

Then the paper was sold, not to who we expected, but to someone else. We had to apply for our jobs, which seemed to be mostly a formality. Decisions had probably already been made.

There were cuts. They weren’t lethal, but they still hurt.

Things began to settle. It was like looking around after a storm had passed, surveying the damage and trying to figure out what to do next.

Over the last six months, I’d been putting on weight, which was contrary to what my doctor had told me to do six months ago. He’d told me to lose 20. Instead, I’d gained almost 30, which earned me another pill to take every morning because of high cholesterol, a result of all the extra calories.

 

I felt pretty bad, too. Exercise at the gym had been inconsistent. I’d stopped going to my self-defense class, wasn’t really going as often as I needed to be part of the Kanawha Kordsmen.

Instead, I was staying home alone a lot, watching hour after hour of Netflix while scrolling through Facebook.

But I’m trying to right things. I dumped Facebook off my phone a week ago. I’m working on getting away from even looking at it on my off-time. I’m also cutting back on my television viewing, reading a lot more and trying to get back on track with my resolutions. I’m working on straightening out my schedule, making an effort to not eat as much garbage or eat as much of anything.

The blog is part of the process, too. My head is not together at this point and I recognize that, but I think I can fix this.

I hope there will be noticeable progress by the time I officially launch this thing in a month. I guess we’ll see.

Tone: page 2

The list of resolutions and things I’ve sworn (not really) to do in 2018 continues, along with notes about progress, plans, excuses, etc…

26-Attend a seance (this one seems to disturb everyone I mention this to, but I’ve never done this. My belief in ghosts and spirits leans more toward skeptic than believer, but I’ve seen stuff I can’t effectively explain).

27-Meet a Zoroastrian (It’s just one religion I’ve never encountered).

28-Watch the movie “Freaks” (currently unavailable on my streaming services).

29-Sync up “Dark Side of the Moon” with “Wizard of Oz” (This seems like a Pink Floyd fan thing that I should have done ages ago).

30-Start a podcast (just to say I have one).

31-SPARTAN (Train and complete one Spartan race. I tried last year and blew it in training).

32-Triathlon (I did a mini two years ago and it was one of the highlights of my summer).

33-Ballroom dance (If all goes well, I’ll be doing this one in May).

34-Teach my kid to swim (Actually, Emmett sort of knows how, but he needs to improve to do the scout camp he wants to do).

35-Watch the final season of “The Office” (I’ve kind of meant to do this for a while).

36-Visit the Russian Orthodox Monastery (It’s one of the odder places in WV –just unexpected that it would be here, of all places).

37-See Shawnee Park (Reportedly haunted).

38-Go to a Drive-In Movie (I haven’t been to one in years).

39-Visit the Poky Dot (A place known for its ridiculously gigantic ice cream dishes. I love ice cream).

XX40-Perform with a rock n’ roll band (I actually did this February 2. I performed with Rubber Soul during their “With a Little Help For Our Friends” show, which was the realization of a lifelong dream –just to be on a stage with a rock band).

41-Visit the King Tut Drive-in (I hear the peanut butter pie is good).

42-Make booze (I’d like to make whiskey, but would settle for wine).

43-Take an actual, 100 percent vacation (I have trouble with that. I tend to work during my time off).

44-Take a trip by train (I’ve never done that, always wanted to go somewhere by rail).

45-Try snowtubing (It looks like more fun than skiing).

46-Save money to send Emmett to Italy (Students from his school are going. He was asked to come, but money is tight).

47-Hang up Christmas lights (maybe not a lot, but some –the neighbors go nuts with it. I feel left out a little).

Tone

It would be easy to just use this space as a place to complain. It’s been a hard year.

So, I think I’m starting over here, now –or at least, I’m starting over this week.

At the beginning of the year, I set up a long list of resolutions and objectives. I do this almost every year and usually fall short. This year, I felt like I really needed to make some progress, that I could make some progress.

I made a list and have been picking at it on and off since January.

Here’s the first 25 on the list:

1-Travel (So far, not much)

2-Grow a good garden (Seeds have sprouted on the window sill)

3-Call my mom (This one is off the books. Mom died March 1)

4-lose 40 pounds (I’m trying to do that one again. I gained weight since the last time I visited by doctor)

5-Run races (Not yet)

6-Get out of debt (small progress)

7-Be a better human (I’m always trying)

8-Sell a book (not so much yet)

9-Try to camp again (Not so much yet, but it’s still snowing here)

10-Do more comedy (I keep saying that I’ll hit that local comedy open mic, haven’t been back)

11-Have an awesome birthday (June 18 is only a couple of months away)

12-Visit friends and family (Not so much, except for a funeral last month)

13-Go to a music festival (Still early)

14-Drink crazy, expensive bourbon (nope, but I have a line on that)

15-Visit the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (Maybe this summer)

16-Meet Mike Mignola (Creator of “Hellboy,” my second favorite superhero) and buy a sketch (Mike isn’t coming to anywhere near here soon. I may have to just send him a check)

17-Drive to Colorado (That sounds awesome all the time)

18-Freelance for other publications (I haven’t tried)

19-Get radio show distributed (I haven’t tried)

20-Read 50 books (I have 11 under my belt now and I’m reading two now)

21-Do a three-day fast (Not yet)

22-Move up or move out (basically, get promoted, get a raise or get a new job –so far, no)

23-Kayak (Not yet)

24-Go to a midnight movie (Go? No. Netflix? Not really)

25-Hire a handyman, fix some stuff (Pending)

So, this is a work in progress. There are about 50 more things to add. I’ll post another batch soon.

Why resolutions in the first place? I think I need goals. I think without stated goals, I tend to just keep treading water, doing the same things over and over. The days just run together.

Do I think I can do everything on my vast and ponderous list?

No. I think I’ll do well to get a third of it, but I want to be challenged to break out of the corner I’ve managed to paint myself into. That’s what this is about, really.

Is this thing on?

Another blog? Really?

Yes, another blog.

It’s hard to say why I’m actually doing this again. Maybe my disenchantment with social media has reached a critical mass (though, there’s a good chance I’ll end up posting these blog posts on Facebook). Maybe I just missed blogging. Maybe I prefer typing out my thoughts rather than trying to write them longhand.

I don’t really know, but I went ahead and paid the money to do this for a year.

This will require me to relearn some old skills, probably, and figure out what I really want to do here. I’m not entirely sure what that is.

Partly, I just want to be silly. I want a better platform for writing stupid things that make me laugh.

Partly, I want to wedge the universe to help me accomplish some goals. Like most years, just before January 1, I put together a list of things I wanted to do.

I could use some help getting some of those done. Blogging has been a great carrot and a stick for me in the past.

Maybe there are other things for me to write, too. I don’t know. It’s tempting to go all serious, to start writing about politics or deep diving into the local landscape to explore stories that I might not do with my day job.

I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but that’s never stopped me before. All I can say is that I’m back. Again.