Every Dog…

We played touch football in gym class in eighth grade, and I usually served as center.  I  was slow of foot and posed no offensive threat as a runner or receiver.  But I could consistently hike the ball and was sneaky good at holding up pass rushers.

One day near the end of a close game, our quarterback, Chris Cochran, waited too long to get rid of the ball.  Two guys got past me.  I turned back to see if Cochran had been sacked and saw him backpedaling away from his tormentors.  He yelled my name and flipped the ball to me.  I bobbled and caught it and ran down field.

All my teammates besides Chris were still running pass routes, and their defenders remained glued to them.  They turned to look back in shock as they saw me heading toward them.  One defender, the fastest boy in our grade, saw the ball tucked in the crook of my arm.  His eyes widened with disbelief, and he finally tore himself away from his man and veered into my path.  I cut to the left and let two other players get into his way.  I assumed that he would catch me from behind and continued to zigzag my way through scatterings of players.

My route cleared completely the last twenty yards, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been downed yet.  I made one more cut to the left when I neared the goal line and scored.

My teammates didn’t celebrate my 50 yard touchdown.  Instead they laughed, pointed at the other side, and mocked them for their ineptitude.  “You let Schmalstig score!” they jeered.

When we returned to our classroom, one of my guys came up to me and said, “Hey, you sure got lucky.”  I smiled and said nothing.  He added, “Because you suck at football.  And you were so surprised when Chris threw that ball to you, you almost dropped it.”

Almost.

 

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Fat Ass the Cat: A Feline at Large

An itinerant cat periodically raided our garbage cans back when I was a teen in Dayton, Ohio.  It made a good living.  Evidence:  its padded belly nearly dragged on the ground.  He sauntered slowly from yard to yard, the self-satisfied master of his realm.

We gave him good sport whenever we heard a crash in the garage and found him rummaging in a tipped over can for discarded meat trimmings, potato skins, and chicken bones.  We ran him off, and, if he dared to return to the scene of the crime, sprayed him with squirt guns to disabuse him of his cherished belief that anything within his range was his to eat.

My brother, a born sprinter with a competitive edge, once engaged Fat Ass in a race.  The cat sat across the street with his weight resting on his haunches and  belly.  He groomed himself nonchalantly as if nothing in the world could touch him, and Tony decided to shake up the kitty’s presumptions.  Brother slowly approached, and Fat Ass stopped licking its paw.  Tony crouched in a half stoop and suddenly bolted forward.  The cat paused a beat incredulous that he had become the pursued, and finally lumbered into a sloppy lurching gait as my brother rapidly bore down on him.  Tony got within three feet before disaster struck.  Fat Ass juked to the left, and Tony swerved to follow.  The course correction made him lose his footing on a wet patch,  and he wiped out.  The cat smugly studied Tony as he lay on his side.  Brother eventually sat up to examine his torn jeans and bleeding knee, picked himself off the ground and limped home.  (I tactfully did not ask Tony what he planned to do if he’d caught the cat.)

One winter morning I kept hearing whining and crying outside.  Stray toddler?  The noise came from the garage, but I saw nothing and no one when I stepped out into the cold.  The crier called out more loudly as I poked around among the tools, the shelves stacked with old newspapers, and the pile of lumber my Dad had haphazardly stacked in the middle.  I lifted up a board to shift the pile, peered into the shadows underneath and saw Fat Ass.  He had somehow wedged himself between the boards and couldn’t get out.  I pushed a sheet of plywood off to the right and lifted a few two by fours to free him.  But the cat just stared at me.  Perhaps he mistook me for Tony and mistrusted my intentions.

The garage was below zero, and I felt my toes and fingers turning numb as I waited for the cat to accept my offer.  Finally, I turned my back to it and lifted the two by fours higher.  I saw a blur pass through my legs and was about to drop my load when Fat Ass suddenly made a U-turn and darted back under the pile.  He wedged himself in a tight crevice and began to mew sadly at me.  Perhaps he had come down with a case of agoraphobia and preferred a cramped prison to freedom.  Perhaps the whole situation was a con.  Maybe he thought we would adopt him if he acted pathetic (or witless?) enough.

I considered the possibility of leaving the cat trapped in a jumble of lumber until it froze to death. I didn’t want to catch pneumonia trying to convince it to accept the only assistance I was willing to give. But I knew that it would rot in place, and that someone (probably me) would get drafted to clean up the mess when spring arrived and the remains thawed.

I blew on my hands and stamped my feet.  I cursed the cat, shook the boards, lifted and turned my back once more.  Fat Ass shot between my legs and kept going out into the yard.  I retreated inside, put on three sweaters and sat by a heat vent.

A family across the street adopted Fat Ass the next spring, and his girth filled out until he resembled a stubby sausage.  He still considered himself a feline at large, and sometimes stalked prey.  One day I saw him hunkered down as he crawled toward a large gray rabbit.  The bunny nibbled on clover with its back to the cat and seemed unaware that danger lurked nearby.  Fat Ass paused, lifted a paw and took another step closer.  The bunny’s left ear twitched, but it kept munching.  Fat Ass delicately lifted another paw and inched forward.  Bunny’s right and left ears twitched, and he sat upright and thoughtfully chewed. Fat Ass made his move, and the rabbit zigzagged and plunged through a shallow hole under a chain link fence to exit to safety on the other side.  Fat Ass, outmaneuvered and unable to force himself through the gap, pawed on a link and meowed.  Bunny sat a few feet away, clipped off a clover bud, and blandly ignored his former pursuer.  The rabbit’s contempt was palpable.

The Digital World

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A college buddy had a ’68 Rambler with a slant six engine.  He opened the hood and told me, “I love this car.  There’s a foot between the inside frame and the engine on all sides.  I can reach everything…Easiest car to work on ever!”  I studied the motor and identified the distributor cap, the carburetor, oil cap, plugs, generator, and  the coolant hoses.  I didn’t know how to fix one damn thing but had hope that I could learn.  Everything was clearly displayed.

That hope died in 1989 when I bought my first car with front wheel drive, fuel injection, and a computer guided motor.  I pulled over one day when the car began to crawl along at a maximum speed of ten miles per hour.  I opened the hood and scanned a densely meshed jumble of wires, hoses, and vaguely formed metal shapes that filled the engine compartment.  I could barely find the engine housing, and little else looked familiar.

I took the car back to the dealer, and the mechanic told me that my computer chip had decided, for unknown reasons, to go into “emergency creep mode”.  I had bought the car two weeks earlier for three thousand, and a replacement chip the size of a postage stamp cost me an additional two hundred.

My wife bought a p.c. around 1995.  She taught me a few functions, and then let me figure out much of the rest (I was an impatient student easily angered by the eccentricities of a machine I intended to use as a glorified typewriter.).  The computer confronted me with cryptic messages from time to time.  I hated “bad command” the most as any attempt to deliver a “good command” would inevitably lead me into a maze of contradictory and obscure instructions.  A friend of mine followed these instructions on her computer until she erased the hard drive, so I knew better than to trust the intentions of computer designers and code writers.  My response to “bad command” became a short message inviting the computer to perform proscribed sexual acts upon itself.  The computer predictably responded with “bad command”, but I felt satisfaction in knowing that my last action truly warranted censure.

A student walked into the first class this semester thirty minutes late. She didn’t join the group gathered in the middle of the room, but leaned against a table and pulled out her phone. Her face settled into a familiar smug expression: she had entered her digital domain where her preferences were anticipated and reaffirmed. My explanations about items in the syllabus became a distant yammering that she easily tuned out.

I came to a class policy banning the use of cell phones for texting, surfing and video streaming, and paused to watch the late arrival punch buttons on her phone. I said, “Tardy students should pay attention to instructions and put their phones away.” The woman didn’t look up. I said a bit louder, “And late students should learn how to take a hint.” She ignored me still. I muttered, “Well, I guess not.”

 

 

 

The Lord of the Headbands

 

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Judy and I just finished watching the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and we noted the prevalence of pale people sporting greasy long hair, decapitation, and speeches of dire foreboding.  We came up with Ring names for each other:  I am Dennegor, and she is Judriel.  I rule the kingdoms of Yondor (we take long walks off yonder) and Rogaine (hence the heads of sweaty long hair).  She’s an elf princess who can speak all the names of plants, even those unknown to mortal man.  She curses anyone who accidentally mows a sacred legume or weeds out a rare native plant from her garden domain (how often fiction mirrors reality, indeed).

A dark lord bequeathed headbands of power to my people.  My magic band gives me the power to make people laugh.  Judriel wants me to cast it aside, but every time I approach the garbage can, my fingers lock tight around the elastic and refuse to drop it into the refuse.  I retreat and place it on my head once more, and Judriel (who remains impervious to the headband’s power) sighs and says, “What are you waiting for?!  You walked all the way out to the kitchen.  Just drop it!”  I carefully adjust the band to create a topknot and say, “It is precious to me.”

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Donate Life

My brother and his wife received kidneys via live donations.  I visited them this summer, and they took me to the offices of Donate Life in Columbus, Ohio.  Donate Life educates and promotes registration for organ and tissue donation.

Two fountains and a memorial wall grace the courtyard.  Water gently seeps and pours over dark granite slabs onto beds of stones.  The names of deceased donors are engraved on plaques set on the memorial wall.

Little memorial shrines are hung on narrow shelves on a wall inside the building.  Donator families place photos and mementos to celebrate the lives of the lost.  Sports trophies, teddy bears, ribbons, dolls and medals provide evidence of lives well lived before mishaps cut them short.  Cards saying, “We love you!” and “Forever in our hearts!” remind the dead that love defies the grave.

Other shrines are mounted among the memorials.  Pictures of healthy donor recipients smile for the camera.  These people look exuberant as they glory in the unexpected return of possibilities. There are notes of gratitude written to the grief stricken families who saw beyond pain and gave hope.

A life-sized photograph is printed on a wall around the corner from the shrines:  an elderly woman rests her head on a middle-aged man’s chest.  Her eyes are wide and intent as she listens.  She can hear her son’s heart beating in a new location.  The donor recipient smiles sadly.  Some in his situation feel survivor’s guilt, but he appears to take comfort from the comfort he is giving to a suffering mother.

Abstraction: Poetic Interpretations of Memory

 

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Here’s a slide show of recent paintings and a drawing. These were made this year and represent a huge departure from my narrative painting series. Abstraction allows me to make poetic interpretations of emotions and experiences, and the process is more absorbing and satisfying than working realistically.

Technique: I’ve been layering images associated with specific events. Memories of a weekend vacation, a quilt on a bed, bass fishing with my father, recovering from surgery, dealing with a friendship gone bad, and an adolescent dream are the sources. I let the colors and shapes develop into rhythmic patterns and create contrasts between flat shapes and volumetric forms.

I intentionally leave hints of the original subject matter. I’ve never been a purist, never wanted to edit compositions into pristine arrangements of a few precious forms. I’d prefer, if I had the cash, to own abstract work by Paul Klee, Stuart Davis, Georges Braque, Arshille Gorky, Patrick Henry Bruce, August Macke, and Marsden Hartley. (They  included autobiographical images, symbols and references to nature in their compositions.)  I’d pass up the pure abstraction, minimalist, and conceptual artwork of Brice Marden, Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman, and Ellsworth Kelly.  (They boiled things down to sterile nothingness.)

 

 

 

Do It Yourself Wedding (With Help)

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My wife and I did most of the work getting ready for our wedding.  Judy’s parents lived 12 hours away and couldn’t offer assistance on the spot.  So, Judy and I found a priest happy to marry us, booked a church and reception hall, hired a baker and chose a design for the cake.  Judy went solo and bought a dress she spied in a shop at the Dayton Mall.  We scavenged east side thrift stores for bud vases, located a restaurant supply store as our source for napkins, paper plates and table cloths.  Judy made her bridal veil and arranged bouquets using flowers from our garden.  She also picked Black-Eyed Susans for table decorations.  I designed the wedding program and folded forty origami swans.  (We placed the swans on the tables beside the flowers.)  We didn’t write vows, but picked out Bible passages, a poem and music for the service.

It felt like we did most of the heavy lifting, but we got a lot of help.  Jack, my groomsman, helped us get supplies and set up the hall the day before.  My Dad stepped in and paid the caterers at the reception.  Jack’s wife, Patty, shot the official wedding pictures as a present, and my brother-in-law, Dan, acted as a DJ at the reception.  My grandfather, Joseph Reger, sang a hymn at the wedding ceremony.

There were a few tense moments as we rushed around getting ready.  But Judy and I didn’t argue much.  We were caught up in the excitement of our first mutual enterprise.  And while we wanted the day to go well and to please our friends and relatives, we looked ahead with anticipation.  We reached forward for the real prize of spending our lives together.

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