Marriage Along a Napper’s Way

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With Baby Crash, watching a gray day out the den window . . . small house.

Gray day. The air itself was wet.

One intersection from Starbucks and my appointment with the writing table, wife Kathy’s guitar ringtone strummed. “John Coleman, where is that Pampered Chef stuff?” She spoke of a baking sheet and hell-I-don’t-know-a spatula that her friend would be picking up soon. Due to a recent, understandable case of what we call ping brain, she forgets and occasionally slides off the rails. When you’re moving from big house to small, as we are now, the cranium can get crowded.

“Uh, here in the truck behind my seat.”

“Where are you?”

“Turning into Starbucks. But I can run it down to you.” (“And lose half my writing time,” I thought, but didn’t say.)

“Ooh, by Starbucks? Maybe you could bring me a venti chai tea latte?”

“Sure.” (“Make that 2/3 of my writing time.”)

“Okay, thank you, John Coleman!”

In I went, ordered the tea and talked to a couple of friends, then headed north on I-79 to the Regional Cancer Center.

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The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, 1632 (Credit: Wikipedia)

And that’s when my napper’s way took over. A nap or siesta generally involves down time in the afternoon–pretty simple. But the napper’s way is round-the-clock: in the midst of activity, obligation, and distraction, you stop. “Peace, be still.”

The Mazda 4X4 was exceeding the speed limit, but the driver’s spirit-mind pulled to the berm. A couple nights ago I scratched loose one of Kathy’s old scabs (most wives and husbands have them, I suppose), and she forgave far more quickly than I did myself.

Breathe. Nap while fully awake. Oh, bars of my soul, open, open. What’s worth upset? What deserves anything other than a smile and no worries? And for those in love, what response is better than a kiss?

Salting old wounds or inflicting new ones calls for a cold shoulder, maybe worse, but losing a hundred words for my wife’s sake is of no account. The inconvenience is a single hiccough. It’s a sweat bee brushed out the car window.

So I delivered the tea, baking sheet, and whatever-the hell. One of Kathy’s officemates laughed: “She just wanted you to bring her a Starbucks.”

On the way to the exit, Kathy said, “I’m sorry. I put the stuff on the seat so I wouldn’t forget.”

“Oh, you mean the seat you were sitting on?”

“Yeah, that one.”

We smiled–at her ping brain and my frailty and at love on a cloudy day–and leaned into each other. “Be in touch,” I said.

unnamedThen I landed here at Starbucks, where Kathy’s email chimed: “Thank you, my dear. Love you.”

No, my dear. Thank you.

 

An Embarrassing Measure of Blessing

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Baby Crash, who must be fed.

A Saturday morning routine has taken hold by surprise. As Kathy and I wake up at leisure—the one day that doesn’t begin with the aria of Bach’s Goldberg Variations set as the alarm on my snotty iPhone—we stay in bed, talking, breathing, warming to the hours ahead. “What do you have up for today?” We have friendly negotiations, then when she heads downstairs to feed dog Watson and cats Baby Crash and Shadow, I pray/meditate for half an hour. After paying bills, we run on separate rails until suppertime. It’s a calm, sane arrangement.

Yesterday I had a shamatha moment—calm abiding, clear awareness—before Kathy got out of bed. As she lay against me, her hair was all over my face. I breathed in its scent—a glad habit—and looked out through its wild lattice at the turning trees on the Shenley Drive boulevard. Sun and fall leaves behind my wife’s brown hair—a double blessing.

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When I woke up, the storm had passed, leaving the Coleman family with firewood.

Another day last week as I settled into my nap, I watched those same beloved trees get thrashed by wind and rain. Though the temperature was in the forties, I opened one window about a foot so the hiss and deep ah of the weather could sing me to my rest beneath a feather quilt. Before sleep came, inhaling and exhaling the joyous riot outside, I remembered the fortunate position I’m in.

Each day I can take the Siesta Exit off of Interstate Absurdity and rest for an hour. Even during hectic stretches, I can usually pull to the berm for a twenty-minute power nap. The world is catching on to the restorative benefits of midday oblivion, but most people I know don’t have the liberty to do what has become central to my spiritual practice—stop, halt, cease and desist, for just a little while. The twenty to sixty minutes of repose isn’t counted as company time—as my brilliant grad school professor John Barth was fond of saying. When I add up work hours to make sure I’m earning my pay, nap isn’t part of the tally. Folding sleep minutes into compensated minutes would be sane, but at this point in our assumed societal covenant, it would be unethical. (Google and the Huffington Post provide napping pods, but I don’t know if they actually pay employees to nap. After a cluster of near misses, baggy-eyed air traffic controllers are cleared to close their eyes as long as the friendly skies are adequately monitored.)

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Even Thomas Edison napped in his midday valley.

No, my blessing is a flexible schedule. I regularly work from 4:00 to 5:00 a.m. shaping programming for the church, then go back to sleep. Or I catch up on e-mails between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. In a certain respect I’m always working, praying/meditating without ceasing, dreaming about what’s possible, opening myself to the Spirit’s leading. So at 2:30 p.m., when my forehead gets heavy, I surrender.

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The Shenley Drive maples that bless my siestas.

If I’m at church, the siesta kit finds its place on the floor of the pastor’s study, and I set my alarm for an hour ahead. At home, I lie on my left side in bed, look out the window at the Shenley Drive maples, and remember Kathy, who nurses cancer patients all day long and can’t stop to rest, son-in-law Matt, who nurses machines and has to slog through his midday valley, or son Micah, who paints with minimal breaks and comes home sweaty. I watch the maples from the barren branches of February to the swollen greens of July to the fiery leaves of October and reverence people who have no beloved brown hair to kiss or no bed at all. Then, especially when the weather plays against the trees, I nod off, embraced by an embarrassing measure of blessing.

Swimming Upstream on a Bad Hair Day

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An image for today: trying on one of our bathroom remodeling purchases. Does this seat make my face look fat?

Swimming upstream: that’s what I’m doing today. At home when I was a kid, we’d say, I’ve got the blues. Depressed is too strong a word. I’ve wrestled with depression before, so in my vocabulary that term is reserved for times when sleep is your lover, when you constantly feel the weight of tears behind your eyes. Tuesday, July 9, 2013 is actually in the okay category, but I can say so only by pushing myself and acknowledging an aggravating fact: nothing’s wrong! I should be following Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice and smiling at my non-toothache. In the words of Patrick, my ten-year-old neighbor with Down’s syndrome who drops his helping verbs, “It not working.” Patrick is the Sage of Shenley Drive. I not kidding.

An hour’s blessed oblivion at 2:00 p.m. didn’t work either. Usually the world shines when my alarm, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, goes off and I stand up and stretch. For a few minutes it seemed that I’d flown above the clouds, but soon, without my approval, my nose descended back into the inexplicable turbulence.

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I need your help, Barry Manilow! (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

To borrow a phrase from a mom who stopped by the church this morning, if I weren’t having a bad hair day—another way of describing the blues—I might look for an answer to a question in my head: “Is my swimming upstream the result of a mostly pampered life?” I suspect today is a bummer because current troubles, most of them imaginary, have eased up enough that nebulous old sorrows have space to stretch their legs and kick at my spirit. But with this gray Tuesday matching my interior, I’m not doing research. The best I can do is recommend a fitting song: Ray Stevens’ “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow,” from which I quote:

I need your help, Barry Manilow,

I’m all alone and sitting on a shelf.

Sing me a song, sing it sad and low,

I feel like feeling sorry for myself.

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Probably a very introspective caveman (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Like the rest of the song, my case of the blues is self-indulgent, worth a laugh. Imagine a caveman sitting on a rock, rubbing his forehead and saying, “I just need a little space. I’m having a bad day. Okay?!” I doubt troglodytes had as much time as I do to nurse neuroses, because if they hadn’t gone out and speared a wooly mammoth, hungry cave-children would have gnawed on their hairy calf muscles in the middle of the night.

Or what soldier in a trench mopes if she or he doesn’t get a siesta? Troops might sneak in a nap when the action slows, but when a comrade says, “I’m storming that bunker. Cover me!” you can’t say, “Aw, can’t it wait? I’m about to take my siesta.”

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Did World War II’s Rosie the Riveter have time to nap? Doubtful. (“We Can Do It” by J. Howard Miller. Credit: Wikipedia)

The point I’m back-stroking toward is this: When I say I’m swimming upstream, sometimes I’m experiencing an honest-to-goodness visitation of toxic life junk that’s worth examining. Other times, I “feel like feeling sorry for myself”–just because. Often it’s hard to tell the two streams apart. Either way, I admit that today’s bad hair is Manilow-vian. The same goes for my siesta. Most people don’t have the luxuries of stopping to wonder why they’re iron gray inside and lying down at midday to take a break from struggling against the current. Remembering the billions for whom a ten-minute prayer or a thirty-minute nap is out of the question keeps me from being ridiculous and narcissistic.

I plead guilty to being silly and occasionally self-absorbed.

The Day My Bones Turned to Dark Emeralds

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This morning at 3:50 my body woke up with the off-kilter assumption that the routine was underway. Years ago I responded to such circadian hiccups by trying to will myself back to sleep. Now I prop myself up in bed and practice my trippy marriage of Christian prayer and Zen meditation for as long as it feels right. If my head gets heavy, I lie down and let go. If I’m fresh, as was the case before dawn, I keep going–in this case for sixty minutes.

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“Make mine a San Pellegrino water, if you please.” (Szenenbilder aus dem Stück “Der Snob” von Carl Sternheim. Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For another hour I pecked out notes on my iPhone, planning church work and making a shopping list: pistachios, avocados, San Pellegrino water (aren’t I refined?), pinto beans, soy hot dogs, etc. Thinking at 5:00 a.m. about anything positive or even mundane has a spacious quality. The mind drinks cool draughts of sanity. Wonderful!

At 6:00, as the maples on Shenley Drive took shape in the first light and the neighborhood cardinal chanted his dawn mantra, I took an hour’s siesta. Yes, siestas are by definition an afternoon activity, but I’m taking a semantic liberty. After two hours of healthy wakefulness, lying down again and drifting off with a lovely breeze on my face and arms and a lovely wife beside me seemed more like a nap than a resumption of night sleep. A little after 7:00 I dressed and creaked downstairs to discover a small envelope on the dining room table.

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If I weren’t already light and refreshed, the contents would have washed any sludge off my spirit. Son Micah had written me a belated Father’s Day note, full of love and gratitude, and enclosed a Starbucks gift card. Had I not been under the emotional surveillance of Zoloft, I’d have cried. As it was, I rubbed the gift between my fingertips like a feather found on a beach, like a leaf of the lamb’s ear Kathy has growing out front.

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One of Kathy’s lamb’s ear leaves.

Driving to church, I decided to record Happy Birthday and send it as a text message to daughter Elena, who turns twenty-five today. One voice in my bush league vocal repertoire is a schmalzy vibrato, and I laid it on thick for my pregnant girl. For a flourish I scooped the last you note.

Elena’s text response: “Thx daddy! U just made me laugh cry. Damn hormones!” At 2:22, when I would normally take a siesta, Elena texted me a recording of my dancing grandchild’s heartbeat. Woosh, woosh. Sounded herculean to me, but what do I know? I smiled, but again, wasn’t verklempt.

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I never did get a nap. Didn’t get a run in either. Obligations took over. I spent half an hour with a parishioner in a soul-strangling situation and drove home gratified that he and I had extracted a couple veins of grace out of a cavern of darkness. In my chest, joy and depression played Twister.

Close to dinnertime, I received another text message from Elena, which I paraphrase: “Daddy, any chance I could use my ‘I’ve had a bummer of a day and need my daddy’ coupon?” A couple Christmases ago I stuffed the family stockings with coupons written on index cards. Ever since, Elena and her husband Matt have been redeeming them. Elena and a co-worker hugged goodbye this afternoon as the latter was moving to Columbus. Seeing a dear friend leave combined with those damn hormones had Elena’s tears splashing out. So off the load of us went to Perkins Restaurant, where wife, son, daughter, and son-in-law had a pancake-waffle frenzy. Thankfully, the carbohydrates and bummer coupon brought Elena’s hormones back into balance.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013: one ambush of blessing after another. I’m constantly aware that my personal healing from living for years under reality’s fist is taking longer than I’d like, so I’d be a fool to rush this day to a conclusion.

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Kathy’s trumpet vine waiting for hummingbirds.

When people I love blossom—even those standing throat-deep in compost—I’m going to stop! Shamatha—calm abiding—in an elementary extravagance: a wife who loves me, though my faults are legion; a daughter and son-in-law in giddy orbit around her belly; a son whose true self emerges more each day after being suffocated so long by addiction; friends and parishioners whose goodness keeps making me pinch myself.

Gladness lives under no obligation to stick around. I remember this constantly. So on days when joy is so thick that no afternoon nap is needed, I wear a wide interior grin of gratefulness. My amen is written by the poet James Wright:

When I stand upright in the wind, my bones turn to dark emeralds.

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(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Second Report from the Ark: Talking Adultery, Contemplating Adrenal Fatigue

Day Three

Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 5:02 p.m., again at Lyndora, Pennsylvania’s Panera Bread. An extra shot of decaf espresso has my iced latte tasting almost like coffee. I wish caffeine didn’t make me jittery; a jolt would be great right now. After waking from an hour’s nap at 3:30, I felt refreshed at first, but now I’m either tired again or nervous. With my temperamental constitution, it’s tough to tell the two apart.

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“Noah’s Ark” (1846) by Edward Hicks. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Overall today has been peaceful. Forty-five minutes of prayer this morning followed by another thirty after lunch have helped. Still, I wonder if naturopathic physician (I never heard of it, either) Dr. Lauren Deville, NMD, might be describing me in her TucsonCitizen.com article “Adrenal Fatigue: The Epidemic of a Stressed Out Society.” If I’m tracking the author correctly, adrenal fatigue works like this:

  • Your adrenal glands, which sit atop your kidneys, pump out epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) in response to stressful situations.
  • Dr. Deville writes, “One of three outer layers of the adrenal glands produces another hormone meant to offset the effects of adrenaline and ‘buffer’ the body against the effects of acute stress. This hormone is called cortisol.”
  • If you experience a normal amount of stress, the adrenal glands can produce enough cortisol to keep nerves and fatigue at bay. If your life is chronically stressful, the adrenal glands get whacked out. They keep epinephrine coming, but cortisol slows to a trickle.
  • The result: adrenal fatigue, and with it depression, PMS, insomnia, sugar cravings and hypoglycemia, low blood pressure upon standing, and recurrent infections.
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So those blobs of chicken fat on top of my kidneys might be making me siesta obsessed? (Credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve covered all these symptoms, including PMS, which in my case stands for panache-less male syndrome. It’s occurred to me in the past that maybe my adrenal glands were firing out large doses of epinephrine long after stressors had gone away. Turns out I may be cortisol deficient.

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Rembrandt’s Moses looking like he’s about to clobber the Israelites over their heads with the tablets. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Or hypochondria might be the problem. Whatever. Tired, nerved up, goofed up, or lacking cortisol, I’m grateful for this day. While my teaching partner Jeff was back home in Warren doing a funeral, I talked to eleven middle school students about the commandments against adultery or stealing. I decided not to pamper them, to just say what needed to be said. The essential message: don’t cheat (obviously!) and don’t get obsessed with sex, not because God gets especially enraged when people sleep around, but because the whole business will end up making you miserable. Lutherans don’t claim to know the mind of God, but we believe that God gives the Ten Commandments out of love, not in an attempt to be a divine buzz kill.

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“The Only Known Photograph of God” by Thomas Merton. (Credit: photobucket.com)

Funny thing, middle schoolers get awkward and squirmy listening to a balding, pale, fifty-one-year-old pastor talk about sex, mainly due to the yuck factor. We got through the lesson thanks to the little candy bars I gave them to redirect their discomfort. Teaching thou shalt not steal went quickly, and we closed out the afternoon session by thinking about not robbing ourselves. For prayer time, they drew chalk self-portraits and thought about how they can take loving care of the person God made them to be.

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Kind and healthy kid, fond of hair sprouts.

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Accurate: wonderful minimalist kid, brainy, chatty.

Back now to camp for free time. On Wednesdays at Lutherlyn, we don’t have evening classes. The kids head into the woods to play campy games, and we pastors lounge in the Ark, eat pizza, and toast the day.

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The Ark at Camp Lutherlyn, the site of porch sitting, daily postmortems, and many long siestas.

My job is to pick up the pizza. The fatigue-nerves-hypochondria-cortisol deficiency has eased up, who knows why. I should just learn to accept that I’m a strange man.

Wanting To Be Verklempt After Nappus Interruptus

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More people should go to this joint! 3741 West 26th, Erie, PA.

I’m sipping an iced, decaf latte at Brick House Coffee at 5:19 p.m. Micah’s talking life over with his therapist—a life in progress. Those words triggered my question for the day: should I say in progress or incomplete? The answer depends on whether I’m glad or disgruntled. My aura is foggy and fatigued, thanks to a neighbor whose yard work occasionally collides with my siesta, so for the moment, disgruntled wins. She’s nice, but has the loudest leaf blower and weed whacker on the market. A couple years ago when Micah’s death metal band Festering Pestilence practiced in the Coleman basement, I could nap through their roaring hits “Dead and Leaking” (a tribute to one of the boy’s ex-girlfriends) and “Stench of Greed.” Those were the days! But lawn grooming’s high-pitched wheeee and whirrrr make the maple tree propellers, weeds, and me all toss and turn. I gave up and joined neighbors Joy and Kevin on their porch for a Saranac pale ale, which landed in my belly like a quart of bacon grease. Delicious, but ugh.

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Mike Myers as Linda Richman on Saturday Night Live, getting verklempt. (Credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to my cases of nappus interruptus and gut slosh, Zoloft also has a cry trapped in my chest. Yes, I’m a man, and I could use a good blubber. Who knows exactly what it’s about? This is one drag about being on an anti-depressant. Before Zoloft, every day was a swim upstream. I’m much more peaceful overall now thanks to a slim 50 mgs of a chemical, but the sanity comes at a price. Geritol and the Church of Latter Day Saints commercials used to make me verklempt. No more. Tears are rare these days, and I miss them. Anyway, the point: an incomplete cry is exhausting. You try to sigh it out, cough it out, talk it out, whatever. Nothing works. (I’d be glad to hear from any of you who can relate.)

Fortunately, not all of the day’s incompleteness has been a bummer. After prayer this morning, I surveyed the downstairs bathroom, which wonder-wife Kathy is tantalizingly close to finishing. Check out the photographs for a summary.

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Register not yet de-crudded. Cats stay out!

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I’d probably be okay with this for a year.

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Until the privacy curtain is finished, we shower at the rodeo.

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Bathroom door still under anesthetic in the garage. From this angle, it could be art.

Since the bathroom is functional in all necessary ways, I put it in the joyful, in-progress category.

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Shower, sink, toilet: yep, it’s a bathroom, all right.

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Until the door is finished, a curtain fit for a brothel.

Micah himself is obviously in progress. Possibly for the first time in his post-pubescent years, he’s taking employment seriously. (A good friend went to bat for him, got him a job. Gracias!) Nearly one-year clean now, my twenty-one-year-old slides into the passenger seat after a day of painting, lights up a Camel Wides Menthol, and groans. It’s a good tired. For once I’m grateful for cigarette smoke, which smothers his lathery stench of work.

Near the complex where Micah’s painting, a multi-generational gaggle of geese congregates. When I dropped him off this morning, I thought to myself that the youngsters are in progress, which can be a gentle way of saying, “Kind of stupid.” One of them was sleeping in the middle of the road, and as I approached, one of the adults waddled out and said, “Hey, Scooter, get your downy rump off the road.”

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Come along, Scooter.

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Don’t judge me. I’m “in progress.”

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One of the rooms at Brick House. (They also have micro-brews!)

From my corner of the Brick House, I laugh at a gosling and a man-cub, but if ever there were a work in progress it’s me. Or am I incomplete? Eh, whatever. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a brick shithouse. I mention this because Micah asked me about the term’s origin as we passed this coffee house on the way to therapy. I told him it probably comes from the image of a structure that’s stronger than necessary for its purpose. I was right, basically. Check out straightdope.com if you can’t find anything else to do with yourself.

Off now to fetch my son from shrinkage. He’ll light up, I won’t cry, and we’ll drive home, each thing we speed past praying in its own way for an aura that shimmers hope and growth into the ambiguous afternoon.

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A brick . . . outhouse, surrounded by trees putting out a hopeful aura. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Letter to Myself After Morning Coffee at Starbucks

Dear John:

Stop, breathe, and pay attention to the man who’s cleaning up the parking lot. Receive into your spirit his stooped back, pinched shoulders, and twitching left hand. Take note lovingly, “This guy did not win the genetic sweepstakes!” He didn’t create his body small and flawed, like millions of his misshapen brothers and sisters who endure their days, trying to make something of a life that never forgets its vessel urges strangers to look away.

IMG_0727Remember, as you stand by your car in the holy space of shamatha (calm abiding) and watch this brother walk to his next scattering of crushed cups and cigarette butts stuck in sunbaked butter pecan ice cream, that he’s important, no less a child of creation than you because you have a title and he bends his face to our leavings for money. You’re an ass if you suppose, even fleetingly, that the trashy, puke smell he takes home in his nostrils makes him less beloved than you.

His life may be glad, happier than yours, in fact. Maybe he goes home to an embrace—maybe not. Whatever the case, stand a few extra seconds at your car, breathe again, wait until he’s a far-off dot in a fluorescent-orange vest, and imagine. His days are difficult. The brain under his bristle of red hair may stay wakeful at 2:00 a.m. and pray that a companion would hold his trembling hand and know that it would never fail or betray. The hands that pick up the occasional sopping diaper are probably as faithful as your hands, John, which lift the bread and cup and presume to bless.

Watch. Witness. This is the purpose of your siestas and prayers: not that you’ll be centered and refreshed for your own sake, but that you’ll honor—shamatha!—your stooped brother’s residency in this spiritual city. Honor him? Yes, because he’s blessed you. He’s helped you to understand yourself. You’re thirty pounds overweight? Poor boy!

Finally driving off, you see his brother one parking lot away, wearing Dickey work clothes and peddling a crappy ten-speed: a skinny scalped man with jaw thrust forward like Billy Bob’s Karl in Sling Blade. Around the next curve, another towering lumpy brother stabs litter. Don’t forget, these men’s homes may be content. Or they might stare at the ceiling in the longing twilight, clenched and miserable.

Let them all be beneficiaries of your silence, John, recipients of your long Sunday naps and hours of prayer. Don’t assume to know their suffering, but always make room for it as you sip your privileged pinot noir on the front porch. Take compassionate shamatha into lonely places. Acknowledge with tenderness the forsaken. Hold their troubled flesh in your awareness.

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Jowls Hidden by Beard, Baggy Eyes Behind Black Glasses

You can’t and shouldn’t get up in their business and suppose you can fix their lives. You don’t even handle your own life very well. Still, no matter whose face you look into, you can recall that God, too, beholds that face. You can say hi. Of course, you’ve now got bags under your eyes as well as the start of your grandfather’s jowls, but if you smile—not sanguine and flakey, but real—and pray, “Let my eyes say, ‘I wish you gladness,’” maybe the soul behind that face you pass by will wonder in the wordless way souls do, “Could I be loved? Might gentle grace mysteriously abide under all the sloshing garbage bags and behind the furrowed glances of indifference? So, maybe I’m not alone?”

Somehow or other, if your worn eyes can say any of this, especially to the unlovely, then celebrate. And if all you can do is notice a man with a twitching hand moving on to his next mess, then you’ve done one invisible piece of work in the stewardship of the universe.

Thanks for trying,

John

A Shark, a Pan Flute, and a Lemon-Sized Grandchild: It’s All Good!

Over the last ten years, I’ve learned how to answer the question, “How’s it going?”

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At Fourteen Weeks (Credit: http://www.pregnant.thebump.com)

Daughter Elena, twenty-four, is carrying wife Kathy’s and my lemon-sized grandchild and constantly breaking into uber-pearly smiles. Son-in-law Matt, who could probably build a harpsichord blindfolded and with half of his brain tied behind his back, installed a light-fixture today in our bathroom. Now, at 9:19 p.m., Kathy’s willing the new medicine cabinet into its designated spot. Micah’s watching a movie about Siamese warriors with mustaches and puffs of hair he finds annoying. He’s been pleasantly chatty over the past hour, quizzing me on quotes by William Cowper, Oscar Wilde, Aristotle, and Thomas Jefferson. Amazing what you can learn from packs of Mentos gum. I should have known the source of Micah’s favorite: “The whole is more than the sum of the parts.” His hint, “like some Greek guy,” helped.

Other details worth mentioning: at least one of the cats has been rogue pissing in the basement; money’s snug (what’s new); the house is messy in part because the bathroom project presents one complication after another; and a shark is sleeping in the Coleman family’s beach house.

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Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neumann (Credit: Wikipedia)

“So how’s it going?” Splendidly! I’m serious. When Elena was a teenager she went through a Goth period, though black clothes and eyeliner were pimples on the rump her high school years. In my last post I went into Micah’s thrashing about and legal trouble. Sure, cat pee is unpleasant, but in the “how’s it going?” department, Alfred E. Neumann speaks for me: “What, me worry?” My recovering druggy son is playing the pan flute as he watches that fighting movie, and by Thanksgiving I stand a good chance of being a grandfather. So . . . I’m fantastic!

In the midst of my current messes and blessings, I’ve discovered yet another napping venue, which adds to my light spirits. A couple years ago, Renaissance Kathy remodeled Micah’s old basement bedroom, which he called the Batcave—don’t think superhero, think squalor. The rehabilitated room would be called the Beach House, a guest room where Kathy’s friends could stay when they come to Erie to sail on the Brig Niagara.

Last week, when we had a couple of hot, close days, I decided to take siestas down in the Beach House. Great choice. Kathy and I differ in décor tastes, she preferring bright and whimsical and I favoring earthy and depressing, but falling asleep in a cool space that reminded me of my wife’s smile was joyful. I told her the other day I’d consider transferring all dog-days-of-summer sleeping to the Beach House rather than putting the window air conditioner in the upstairs bedroom. We’ll see.

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The Beach House Bed

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Above the Bed

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Starry, Sunny Plate by Elena Thompson

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Visual Wind Chimes (No Breeze in the Basement)

The room’s not perfect. An artificial Christmas tree and air mattress, both in their plastic cases, have moved in temporarily, and a papier-mache shark Kathy made a few Halloweens ago is biting down on a love seat at the foot of the bed. Far from bothering me, sharing the Beach House with Jaws reminds me, again, of my wife. As Micah’s fond of saying, “It’s all good.”

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No, I Did Not Move the Shark for This Photograph

So how’s it going? I’ve got a new place to nap, kids whose future looks decent at the moment, and a wife who got that medicine cabinet where it belongs. The present blessings are more than enough. I’m doing fine.

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Kathy 1, Medicine Cabinet 0

Socks, Pasta, a Memory of Heroin

IMG_0539This Memorial Day weekend I spent an hour sorting socks. The only detail that makes this chore noteworthy is how long I put it off. Eighteen months? Two years? I don’t remember. Why so long? The short answer is, “My son was hooked on heroin, got arrested, and spent ninety days under house arrest.” Micah was a free man as of January 28, 2013, but when you’re a felon, freedom is relative—no driver’s license, no job, hours in group therapy. You’re free, but your penance is lengthy and leaden.

The clean Micah (for almost a year now) is fantastic. With the drug and its relentless, frantic acquisition gone, he’s growing into the twenty-one-year-old man I figured might be under all the junk. He’s not a roaring maw of rage and narcissism. His wardrobe is now polychromatic. He’s patient, generous, quick-witted, and curious. He’s still a slob, but his Titanic is restored, afloat; I’m not about to rearrange his deck chairs. The future is hopeful.

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a...

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a year before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But as anybody who witnesses a loved one’s addiction knows, life consists of one emotional butt whipping after another. I pulled the afghan tight under my chin every afternoon and received what Edgar Allan Poe called “sleep, those little slices of death.” He loathed them. I loved napping as a protest against reality.

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Shredded Basement Paneling, a Scar of Micah’s Worst Months

Days and siestas are much improved as of May 29, 2013; still, mixed in with the relief and stability of Micah’s recovery is residual pain from the past. In the way a marathoner’s body needs time to heal after 26.2 miles, my mind and spirit continue to ache now and then from those times Micah smashed objects in his basement bedroom or paced around the house with clenched jaw and trembling fists. I’ve done some reading on PTSD and wonder about myself. (The particulars of Micah’s, wife Kathy’s, and daughter Elena’s experiences are theirs to tell, so I’m not going into them.)

One sign that I’m healing has to do with socks. An hour seems like nothing, but for however-long-it-was I couldn’t gather up sixty scrawny minute’s worth of energy to pair them. Some people get rid of stress by cleaning. Not me! For whatever reason, then, a couple days ago I dumped that basket on the bed and sorted. Since Micah was in the habit of wandering around in stocking feet, most of the pairs were the sickly gray of dirt that doesn’t yield to bleach. Some were salvageable. Nearly all of them needed to be washed again after multiple seasons in the basement—they smelled like a bunk at summer camp. Random artifacts hid between the folds and in the toes.

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The Throw-Aways

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A Few of My Pairs, Emancipated

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Random Items: BBs, a Bracket, Wood, and What-the-Heck?

Part of me wants to be ashamed of putting off such a simple chore, but as today’s slogan goes, “It is what it is.”

As socks piled up during Micah’s fury, non-perishables also accumulated in the Coleman household’s black-hole-of-a pantry. A couple months ago I reached in and discovered that every time I went to the grocery store a pound of pasta rappelled into my shopping cart. I’d basically been shopping unconscious. “In case we’re out,” I must have thought. We’ll be in good shape with angel hair, linguine, egg noodles, and shells for a while.

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Got Starch?

I asked Micah to read this post before publishing it, and he approves. (He did suggest one change. I’d described above the bunk at summer camp as dank, but he reminded me that word doesn’t just describe moldy caves.) Last night he was catching a smoke on the front porch when I told him through the screen door that I was proud of him, of how well he’s doing. “You know, Micah,” I said, “a lot of what I’m writing about now is what’s going on with me.”

He answered with selfless insight: “You had to live through my addition. You ought to be able to write about it.”

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Micah in December of 2012: Six Months Clean and Experiencing House Arrest’s Cabin Fever

Like I said, the future is hopeful. Micah’s earning back his freedom and learning patience and persistence. I’m healing slowly, waking up to all the socks and pasta that have been keeping vigil as I lurch toward normal.

The Family Dog Channels Nigel Bruce

IMG_0017The Coleman family’s black lab, terrier mix is named after Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. John Watson. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Watson is intelligent, insightful, not like Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of a hapless, bumbling partner to Basil Rathbone’s smooth-operating Holmes. If you want to see a faithful adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, find the Granada Television’s series starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke (or David Burke). The Brits keep close to Conan Doyle, so when Watson seems inept, it’s only because he’s working beside Holmes, who can solve a crime by noticing how butter has melted or how a rope has been cut. Nobody can keep up with Holmes.

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When the name Watson came to me, I was thinking of Hardwicke or Burke, but the dog I fell in love with the moment neighbor Meg brought him as a stray to our door has proven to be more like Nigel Bruce’s Watson. He’s the friendliest dog you’ll ever meet, though you wouldn’t think so if you rang the doorbell. He barks so loudly and long that you’d think his eyeballs would fly out of his head. Then you come inside, he sniffs you, you pat his head, and he says in dog language, “Let’s play fetch.”

He’s amiable, but kind of sluggish. Toss him a piece of filet mignon, and it’ll hit him between the eyes and land on the floor. He’ll pause, sniff, gingerly take it between his front teeth, and let it roll back onto his tongue—as if it might be a little square of plastic explosives. Even as an old guy who’s seen as much as the next dog, he still hasn’t figured out the vacuum cleaner. He’s never been able to trust it.

I could name a dozen annoying habits Watson has (example: he fidgets and meanders constantly during his daily constitutional so that our backyard looks like its been aerated), but he’s such a faithful napping partner I hold nothing against him. When this dog dies, I’m going to be in trouble; that’s how close we are.

We have a routine. I say, “Okay, Watty, you want to go take a nap?”

I start up the stairs, and nine days of out ten, I hear Watson’s labored, clicking steps behind me. He’s nine and has torn both ACLs—we had one repaired, no cheap date.

I lie down on the bed, pat the other side, and say, “Come on, get your spot.”

He looks up at me as if to say, “You know I’m a gimp. Why do you do this to me?” But then he hops up, pirouettes, and plunks down.

From this point on, Watson has a menu of behaviors to choose from. If there are no disturbances, he’s asleep quickly.

As he settles in, he often devotes two or three minutes to making old mutt smacking noises with his fat wet mouth. It’s as if he’s tasting and re-tasting whatever he last ate. If he doesn’t let up, I say, “Watson, seriously!” and he stops, snorts, and puts his chin on his front paws.

A few days ago wife Kathy and daughter Elena took him for a walk on a warm afternoon, so it was a pooped Watson who joined me on the bed. He was panting so hard the bed rocked to his breathing’s fast, jerky rhythm. Eventually I opened my eyes. Not only was he being loud, but every ten seconds a drop of spit fell from his exercise-swollen tongue. I was okay with this. It’s hard to get mad at a senior citizen who’s just worked out.

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Note the Bead of Saliva About to Fall

On the other hand, it’s hard not to get annoyed when dog-walking traffic is brisk on Shenley Drive and Watson has to warn all passersby that he’s watching. He slides from the bed, sticks his snout against the screen, and hollers. All it takes to quiet him is a gentle “Watty, I don’t want to hear it,” but then he switches to short, throaty groans. He only relaxes again when everything’s clear.

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“Hey, That’s My Boulevard!”

Amazingly, most days I fall asleep. On wakeful afternoons, I remember how blessed it feels to rest next to a dog that channels Nigel Bruce.

Watson’s also my prayer partner, especially when I sit propped on the bed. Here we follow the siesta routine because to him sleep and prayer look a lot alike. I will admit that last week he came close to upsetting me. About fifteen minutes into a half-hour sit, my pal hopped up on the bed, looked at me with confused eyes, scratched the comforter to make a sweet spot, glanced at me again, then flopped.

Warning: if you have a twitchy gag reflex, you may want to pass on the rest of the story.

Thousand-one, thousand-two, thousand-three. Then the retching began.

(Coleman pets have had a long-standing policy of getting sick in aggravating places. First, never on tile; always on carpet. Second, if you value something, secure it. I once left a new Asus laptop open in my study, and a cat named Greasy Spot leapt onto my desk and had the mother of all appointments with loose bowels on the keyboard. The computer survived but was thereafter known as the craptop. And third, it is possible to hide hairballs. Years ago a cat left one in the toe of one of my moccasin slippers. Imagine how I discovered it.)

About that retching: “On the bed, Watson,” I said. “Really?”

Really. I won’t get detailed (you’re welcome), but it was a blonde, abundant, single unit.

I went downstairs to fetch wet rags and returned to find that—remember, you were warned—the puke was gone. I mean, gone. Watson was no longer confused; in fact, he seemed pleased.

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My Satiated Cud-master After Interrupting My Prayer

I went through the motions, scrubbing away at where the incident had occurred, but, wow, the dog doesn’t even clean his food bowl that well. Glad it hadn’t happened on my pillow; I’d never have known.

Confession: I finished praying before taking the comforter to the basement. And I wasn’t angry at my buddy. What’s a little barking and barfing between loved ones? This afternoon he’ll be joining me again for blessed oblivion.