The Day My Decadent Life Sprang a Leak

Paris-Bistros-Le-Bon-Georges-01-768x512Photo credit: Le Bon Georges, Paris

When I was a young man, I began searching for the meaning of life. Along the way, I wrote a travel journal, a mix of prose and poetry, and labelled it Fool’s Odyssey.

I’d fallen madly in love (or lust, or both?) with the girl on the train. And she, in turn, had given herself fully to me, dragging me off to live in her little skylit flat. And there, in Paris, we’d lived a life of delicious decadent sensualism. All in the course of two hours.

In my head.

But now we’ve arrived,

I wrote in my journal,

and the train is done.

It’s like a live birth

with hundreds of dewy, wet little things

crawling out on shaky legs

and blinking into the foggy, grey

early morning sun.

And then the girl—I remember her as “Yvette”—smiled and walked out of my life, apparently never having had any idea we were in love. Ah, well, love was like that. It was just that that was one of the better relationships I’d had.

“I actually was in love once,” I journaled, “and it was nice, but after a while my skin began to wrinkle, and that was when I knew I’d been in too long. So I got out and dried off and acted indifferent. But then that got dull, too, so I threw off my towel and dove in again. What else was there to do?” Love was like that, right?

O Vanity! said the Wise Man.

O Hell! said the Fool.

Was it going to be like that now? “No!” I wrote. “Give lust a chance to do its stuff!” So I walked (although not particularly lustfully). But then I learned that the Louvre was closed and Jaques Brel had died, and the business of romance had slowed considerably.

So I settled on a little café. After staring at the menu for a long time, I ordered the one thing I recognized, “poulet et frites” (chicken and “french” fries), and some red wine.

Then my gaze happened on the oil and vinegar cruets in front of me, and I laughed. They looked like two feisty French roosters collared together, back-to-back, ready to make war. Ten paces, and then splash! Lettuce flying! Tomato seeds spilt over the honour of some mademoiselle poulet!

I was getting drunk. Then the waiter brought the chicken and drippy frites. And more wine. So I drank. And drank. And then I stopped drinking because it wasn’t fun anymore.

Only one day had passed since I’d left London, and already my life of decadent sensualism…

Had sprung a leak.

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Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Should I Celebrate My Own Birth?

Rcf1d66c88311e4aa9720f77e66957c76I hesitate to say, “It’s my birthday” because, well, merely soliciting “Congrats!” responses seems rather pointless. And, being an essayist, I always feel like I should have a point. But then, even as I type this, I realize I do.

It’s the very question implicit in my embarrassment at writing this post: Should I celebrate my own birth? My knee-jerk response, despite the fact that I’m inherently self-absorbed (i.e. a writer), is, “No, too self-absorbed!” But upon reflection, it occurs to me that this may, in fact, be one of the few occasions when it’s actually appropriate for me to celebrate myself.

I mean, there are still so many things I’m trying to fix about myself (there, you see how self-absorbed I am?), especially the one Big Thing behind all the little things—what the theologians call my “sin nature.” And yet, despite all these things. I really am glad I was born.

Why?

Because I love existing. I love having constant opportunities to grow. I love being able to love–others, that is, even if I’m sometimes rather bad at it, and, yes, even myself. But most of all, I love existing, so that I can love my Creator.

Therefore, ahem, thank you God, for giving me all of these things to do and to love. And, today at least, thank you for that first thing that made my doing all these other things possible: Thank you for, you know,

Me.

Image courtesy of Cake Designs.
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Red Cars, Magical Forests, and Mom

My Real Memoir

It was summer and school was out, so Mom would sometimes take me to “her L.A.” There were three components to these magical mystery tours: the Red Car, vintage Los Angeles, and a wondrous cafeteria called Clifton’s. Oh, and the most important component: Mom.

Did you know that L.A., the City of Freeways, was once home to the world’s largest public transit system? Privately-operated Pacific Electric streetcars, nicknamed “the Red Car,” honeycombed a huge portion of Southern California. So Mom and I were able to climb aboard just blocks from our little suburban bungalow.

But even then, the pasta-tangle of freeways was spreading, and commuting by car was becoming “the future of transportation.” So, contrary to Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s evil toon plot, in the end it was the freeways that killed the Red Car. Shortly before their demise, Mom and I rode a Red Car one final time. I attended a highly prestigious Three Stooges Movie Marathon (nyuk, nyuk) while she shopped. And then, one last time, we visited the legendary…

Clifton’s Cafeteria. Founded during the Great Depression, Clifton’s had a “pay what you wish” policy, regularly serving down-and-outers for free, even after the Depression ended. Just a bare bones eatery, right? Nope! Clifton’s was a magical forest of wonders, with deer and moose dioramas, an elevator inside a giant redwood tree, and tables scattered among verdant stream-fed grottos. All fake, of course. But not to me—it was all real to me…

Including the Little Chapel. For a nickel, this tiny one-person-church featured music, voices reciting Scriptures, and the kindly face of a person who might or might not have been Jesus. I’d had a non-religious upbringing, so I wasn’t sure what any of it meant. Nevertheless, every time we went to Clifton’s, I had to visit the Little Chapel. There was an undefined yearning in me, even then.

After a Mom-led tour of Pershing Square, the Biltmore Hotel, and Angel’s Flight vertical railway, we’d find the perfect table at Clifton’s, and Mom would listen attentively as I rambled on about my dreams. Dad’s goal was for me to be successful. But Mom, more than anything else, wanted me to be me. And no matter what I dreamed up–that was just what she thought I should do. So, if you’ll allow me a brief post-Mother’s Day tribute:

Thanks, Mom!

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Faith, Not Pretension

peaceful-place-2

Thought for the Week

“Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:6-7

There’s a difference between petition and pretension. The first is the presentation of an urgently felt need, the second is the false claim that one knows in advance what the outcome should be.

Sadly, many believe the latter equals true faith. Yet the Apostle Paul directs us to put our faith not in outcomes, but in God himself. That’s why the above passage ends with the promise that, when we do, our peace will “transcend all understanding.” That is, whether or not we understand the outcome, we’ll know we’ve placed it where it belongs, with the One who does.

Even Jesus, in intense anxiety over what lay ahead, petitioned his Father to, if possible, “let this cup (of suffering) pass from me.” But then, sensing the answer was “no,” Jesus replied, “Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

The outcome, had it been what Jesus requested, would have been ultimately disastrous for all humankind. Instead, it brought a peace that transcends all understanding not only to Jesus himself,…

But to all who’ve followed him ever since.

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Every Day is Mother’s Day

Trudy & Mandy '89

I took this photo of my wife and our recently-born first child when my wife was exhausted. And yet all I see is her bottomless, heart-melting love.

“Call your mother. Tell her you love her. Remember, you’re the only person who knows what her heart sounds like from the inside.” ~Rachel Wolchin

Happy Mother’s Day!

Note: If your relationship with your mother is complicated, or if her own issues caused her to fail, you’re not alone. But your heart still beat within her once. So, if you can, call.

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Tips for Writers: The Intersection of Conflict and Play

Children PlayingPhoto by Monstera on Pexels.com

Guest Blog by Give Me Pen and Paper

This is the first time I’ve posted another writer in my Tips for Writers series, but I really wanted to share these insights by Abe Austin of Give me Pen and Paper with you.

Vectors: In mathematics we learn that one vector defines a single-dimensional space. Two vectors, however, can define a two-dimensional space: field, a landscape, an infinite blanket of ideas. And with three vectors we get a three-dimensional volume. Length and width are joined by depth, form and figure emerge, a complex structure that has to be considered from different perspectives to understand the whole.

This principle holds true when developing a story, as well. The genesis of most stories occurs when the writer’s mind finds an interesting connection of different vectors. Ideas that had seemed unrelated show a surprise connection, and as the mind explores that space it concocts a story to aid in the process. And like turning the knobs on a faucet we are free to crank one of the core ideas up and dial the other back, to leave one out entirely and then gradually introduce it to full force, each combination has its own potential. Notice how many story pitches are delivered in exactly this way: describing the intersection between different ideas.

  • “A romantic comedy, but one of the characters is blind and the other is deaf.”
  • “A classic Western, but it takes place in space!”
  • “The story is 1980s America, but if the Cold War had escalated to actual combat.”

Through these combinations we find a field of discovery. In fact, my most recent stories have all been ways to explore the same three ideas’ intersection on the themes of children, conflict, and play.

It’s an interesting question why we find pretended conflict to be so entertaining, and there are all sorts of theories that have already been posited on the matter. For now let’s just accept the fact that we do. Our stories, even our happy stories, are almost always centered around this idea of opposition and conflict. But if we do intend to keep the conflict “fun,” we have to disassociate it from reality.

As it turns out, there have been many tales that have already explored this same intersection of children, conflict, and play. It is the template that C. S. Lewis popularized with his Chronicles of Narnia series. Consider the first entry, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the children have a conflict with a magical queen, but also a more grounded feud between the quarreling siblings. And though there is great danger in that tale, one cannot help but feel a sense of playfulness in how the children are able to explore such a fantastic realm.

It is also the template of Peter Pan, where siblings again intermingle their squabbles with the life-or-death conflict with Captain Hook. It is Harry Potter having a spat with Ron Weasley, while also being hunted by the murderous Lord Voldemort, while also uncovering the magical world of witches and wizards…

To read the rest of this post, and others, by Abe Austin, click here.

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Mothers Are Forever

My adult daughters still sometimes seek my advice (or use me as an example of what not to do). But for comfort they always go to Mom—and always will. Still, as Robert A. Heinlein put it, “Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation.” It’s not our daughter’s DNA that ties them to her. It’s her fierce, indestructible love.

Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show.

“There’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” ~Mitch Albom

“What marvel-inspiring forces of nature mothers truly are; somehow everything always comes back to and down to them.” ~Jaiya John

“A mother’s body remembers her babies-the folds of soft flesh, the softly furred scalp against her nose. Each child has its own entreaties to body and soul.” ~Barbara Kingsolver

Swingin` from
A hick`ry bough
I felt so brave
I hollered…
WoW
But down I fell
Just like a bomb
And I heard my “wow”
Turn into…
MoM!”
~Shel Silverstein

“The best place to cry is on a mother’s arms.” ~Jodi Picoult

“A queen could leave her throne.
But a mother never leaves her son.”
~V.E. Schwab

  • Ingrid: “He wants to move out! Did you know he’s started calling me S’mother? It’s short for ‘Smother-mother.’ I pried it out of him. I can hear you smiling, Peter.”
  • Peter: “A smile doesn’t make a sound.”
  • Ingrid: He just graduated. What’s the rush?”
  • Peter: “Life. He’s eighteen, Ing. You moved out when you were eighteen.”
  • Ingrid: “And look how I turned out.”
  • Peter: “You turned out great, Smother-mother. And so has your son.”
  • ~from the novel Healing River

“I love my daughter. She and I have shared the same body… But when she was born she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since.” ~Amy Tan

Then one sunny day, they walk out in all innocence and they walk right into the grief that you’d give your life to spare them from.” ~Betty Smith

“Kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” ~Barbara Kingsolver

“There’s nothing like losing a mother, you only get one.” ~Carlos Wallace

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The Girl on the Train to Paris

5bb5f5232400005100981475Photo credit: Huffpost.com

When I was a young man, I began searching for the meaning of life. Along the way, I wrote a travel journal, a mix of prose and poetry, and labelled it Fool’s Odyssey.

My life of decadent sensualism began with the girl on the train.

She was like a preview of Paris. When it got late we pulled down the thing you pull down so the light won’t come in, and everybody in the cabin went to sleep. Except her and me. She leaned her milky white cheek against the jiggling, green, streaky glass window (too many adjectives, non?), and then she slipped off her shoes. She wanted to put her feet up. I was sure she did.

Hallelujah! She wanted to put her feet up, and the only place to put ‘em up was right there across the cabin, next to me. She wanted to, I could tell. So I moved over just enough to leave a nice, cozy little spot where two feet could go, you know?

Nothing.

What do you want from me, a formal invitation? Stop toying with my emotions. I didn’t ask to fall in love with you. Is this ‘the French way?’ I though bitterly. But then I patted the seat and said something like, cough, cough, “Un seat, Mademoiselle?”(I couldn’t remember which was married, “madam” or “mademoiselle.”)

“Merci!” she said, “Merci!” If you pronounce it the way it looks, you get what I got! Merci! Merci! She had “merci” on me! And so it came to pass that she put her feet up on the seat.

But it wasn’t enough. I wanted them on my lap so I could rub her neat nylon feet while she drifted between two worlds: What should I do? she would think (only in French). Eet ees a forwardness, I know, but I like hees hands so much. I like hees crazy, sensitive, foolish face!

And then she would dream of taking me home to her little skylit flat over some bistro on the Champs d’Elysee (except it was me who was dreaming it, really), where “we’d live together in winsome sin,” I wrote in my journal,

Where the espresso machines thundered and steamed

and the barges could be seen sluggishly tugging

their way down the Seine,

where the room was lit, now dark, now lit, now dark,

and the ever-resounding crash of cymbal-light

from the orchestra of marquees outside, said,

“Oui!–but, non!–but, oui!–but, non!”

Where, despite the brooding, gothic-arched eyebrows

of the cathedral across the river,

we’d live in sin till the roof caved in!

I grew pregnant with my precious, prating fantasy — the train went into contractions. “There in Paris,” I wrote,

I’d grow stubble on my chin

and cut my hair with garden tins.

My lover and I would live

in the darkling red-black-red-black-red-black

and breath steam in each other’s faces

and have hot coffee for blood.

We’d feed each other croissants and cheese

and live like slippery, naked little children

playing house in the closet

under the woolen coats

with the smell of moth flakes in our hair.

We’d–

Cease.

Morning had come, and with it…

Paris.

To read the next episode, click here.

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Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Blueberry Muffins and the End of Everything

CaptureMy Featured Blogger this week is Jamey Boelhower of It is all Connected. Here, sweet everyday parenting is coupled with a wistful look back on a less-than-perfect parent. Jamey’s prose and poetry are consistently thoughtful or witty, often both. 

It is all Connected

My three youngest daughters were all up early today. They were spread out in the living room. One reading, one drawing, and one on the iPad.

“What muffins today?” they asked. We have been alternating between blueberry and chocolate chip muffins, with a cinnamon option every once and awhile.

“Blueberry,” I say.

They respond, “OK.” But I can tell they wanted chocolate chip muffins. But there were only two left at the end of the day.

Next week is graduation for my second son.

I turn 50 this year.

I completed the Writer’s Digest 2021 April Poem a Day challenge. (You can read the poems on my Creative Corner for Writing blog. I’ve been posting them when I can. I am on day 9.)

I just finished Kevin Garnett’s book A to Z. (Great book!)

And maybe I’m just waiting for the end of this pandemic, but I’ve noticed…

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What a Mouse and a Kangaroo Taught Me About Life

My Real Memoir

Apart from Mommandad and a few unusual friends, my first introduction to Life with a capital L came from a tiny black-and-white screen. And by “Life,” I mean storytelling, which virtually defines me today; some subtly-inserted values, which I’ll also cop to regularly inserting; and humor, which runs a close second to storytelling in my universe.

When I was around age six, two classic kid’s shows, The Mickey Mouse Club and Captain Kangaroo, made my world a little bigger.

And funnier.

“Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me? M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E. Mickey Mouse!” (Donald: “Donald Duck!”) From Mickey I learned kindness and humility (alright, I’m still working on those). And from Donald I got my first taste of funny. I’d shout, “Donald Duck!” in my best duck-voice, and bust myself up. It was a while before I learned to bust anyone else up.

The Mouseketeers taught me:

  • Romance – My first crush, along with every other kid in America, was an Italian-American girl named Annette Funicello, who, by the 60s, would look even hotter (but still virtuous) on a surfboard. I also had kind of a thing for Betty Boop.
  • How to Entertain – The Mouseketeers had talent! Host Jimmy introduced me to the guitar, which would later become my instrument, and the Mouseketeers taught me to sing and dance! Years later, I would do my first post-high school musical under the direction of one of the original Mouseketeers, Dennis Day.

Captain Kangaroo, a lovable guy with a Beatles haircut long before the Fab Four, taught me to accept everyone for who they were. I mean, the guy’s best friends were a Dancing Bear and a yokel named Mr. Greenjeans. But most of all, he taught me to be wonderfully, gloriously…

Silly.

My first effort at public silliness was problematic, however. I’d decided nonsense words were the funniest thing ever. So, on one of my earliest visits to a screen much, much larger than our TV (and in color!), I delivered my first official punchline!

The old Paramount Theater in Los Angeles was spectacular. Along with its classic movie palace architecture, it was landmarked by a giant neon “P.” Which stood for Paramount, of course, but I didn’t care about that. All I knew was that, amid a thick crowd of people, I’d just thought of a funny-sounding word. “What’s that stand for,” I shouted, so everyone could enjoy the quip, “Penis?”

After dragging me away, Mommandad quietly explained that the word I’d just “made-up” actually meant (quick glance downward), that.

“Oh!” I said. But honestly? I thought it was even funnier now. So I giggled all they way through the movie. I still had a lot to learn…

About some of life’s finer points.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

Posted in Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , | 43 Comments