Somedays Are Bittersweet

Somedays are bittersweet. I think the worse days are those that begin sweet, but turn bitter.

Tuesday, February 6th, my seventy-first birthday, I took my morning walk to Starbucks. It was a beautiful blue sky, the temperature was in the mid-sixties, and the breeze was light to moderate. To the west, the Rainbow Mountains rose in all their majesty with just a hint of snow remaining on their peaks. To the east, the morning sun skipped and skidded off the ostentatious gold of the Trump Tower. It was a beautiful day for a walk and I huffed and puffed the half mile to Starbucks.

Halfway there I pulled out my phone, stepped to the side, and did what I normally did. I found I don’t walk to swift when I’m trying to use the phone, so I stand still to make the order. I used the Starbucks app to pre-order my coffee and breakfast. Hey … why stand in line when you can order ahead? I do this every morning and usually hear the baristas calling my name as soon as I open the door. Technology! This old fart loves it.

I grabbed my coffee and my oatmeal, put the oatmeal together, poured the coffee from the paper cup into the insulated mug I carry, opened my laptop and settled back for two hours.
My Facebook account was busy that morning. I had a lot of feel-good moments as I received and “Liked” Happy Birthday comments on my wall. Nothing wrong with a bunch of benign hits from serotonin. My thanks to friends and family that sent those. I also had a couple of good reviews and comments on a short story I had posted to a writers forum on the previous Friday.

When I left Starbucks to finish the long portion of my morning walk, I was riding a nice high from the caffeine in the coffee, the sugar in the oatmeal, and the serotonin in Facebook. I stepped right along to Arville. I turned south and consumed the sidewalk to Harmon. Then it was west and I devoured the path to Cameron. Like a septuagenarian exercise glutton, I devoured the walk south to University. For the final course, I nibbled on Decatur and belched to announce my arrival home. All totaled it is about 2.4 miles. I do it every day when it ain’t pouring cats and dogs, and in Las Vegas that does not happen very often.

Life slapped me across the face when I got back to my apartment. I live in a senior complex with a lot of people as young as me. It’s not assisted living, but the sign says “55+” and there is a lot of gray hair. The first thing I noted was a black and white in the middle of the parking area for my building. That is not too out of the ordinary living where I live. I had a sinking feeling when I saw the open screen door of the neighbor below me. Dave never leaves his screen door open.

As I walked up my stairs, an officer of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department hailed me.

“Sir, have you seen your neighbor the last day or two?”

“I haven’t seen him. But I have seen his car move.”

“Which one is that?”

“The BMW.”

“Anything else?”

“Just general things you notice. The monthly newsletter was taken down, lights on, toilets flushing. Anything wrong with Dave?”

“Yes sir, he passed away sometime in the last twenty-four​ hours.”

It was one of those moments where you knew where the conversation was going, but you just don’t want to admit. You hoped it wouldn’t because you don’t want to go there. We got there, the officer and I. That was all.

I said, “I live above, if you need something let me know.” This time as I walked up the stairs I held onto the railing. About​ halfway up I slammed the railing with my right palm and said, “GOD DAMN IT!”

Dave used oxygen and obviously had medical problems, but we always got a chuckle when we talked. I never heard him speak ill of anyone. If I was out with Hank or Lola he always gave them a pet or two. We talked about the nothing and everything that two old men talk about. With Terry’s drawn-out​ illness last year he was always asking about Terry. I will miss him.

That’s life when you live in a senior living complex. The colors you hate to see are flashing red and blue on your window shades.

Wrong

What is wrong with being wrong?
Unless you refuse to admit you are wrong,
then you will never know you are right,
because you never admit you are wrong.
Now that is just wrong.

What is right about being wrong?
Nothing, if you admit you are wrong,
then you can find the right.
Admitting that you are wrong,
allows you to make the wrong right.

Can the right, be wrong?
When the right must always be right,
it is always wrong.

A Call For Prayer

And it came to pass, in the fullness of time, that a Great Ecumenical Council was convened by the three fundamental religions that remained. And they did change the name to the Great Final Ecumenical Council because this would be the last time that a such a council would be needed.

And thus did they decree, at this Great Final Ecumenical Council, that a Pray-Off was to be held by the three great fundamental religions that had outlasted all of the others. The final three would send representatives to a place to be determined, where they would pray. Whoever won the Pray-Off, be it God, Allah, or Jehovah, would then become the Ultimate Religion. The journey from Ur would end with UR.

And so they did gather. Each according to their group did they gather. In the designated place did they build a Holy Bowl. And the Holy Bowl was surrounded by the Holy Parking Lot where everyone could park their Holy Chariots. And at three points, one for each Holy Group did they build a Holy Pool.

And it came to pass that after building the Holy Bowl and all the Holy artifacts, then did they gather and then did they pray. They prayed in the morning. They prayed in the afternoon. They prayed in the evening. They prayed loud and long into the night, and then they prayed all night long. In the morning, the morning crew came on and they prayed the morning through. And thus they prayed, each unto their group and each unto their shift did they pray. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Yay, unto time measured in years, did they pray.

One group did build tall stone towers there in the Holy Bowl and did use loudspeakers to call the people to prayer. They chose their muezzin from men with fine voices and strong senses of rhythm and the muezzin called the people to prayer in the morning, to prayer at noon, to prayer in the afternoon, and to prayer through the night. The towers sang with the calls to prayer all day long and all night. And how those people prayed, bowing low till their knees developed great callouses, and how they prayed.

The second group moved their sacred wailing wall to the Holy Bowl in the designated place. It was felt it was necessary to get the maximum energy out of their prayers. So move it they did. Brick by brick it was moved with an assigned prayer group for each brick. Prayer never stopped while the wall was moved and reassembled at the designated place. At last, long lines of praying people could be seen queued up to never have a single second where prayer was not being raised to the heavens.

And the last group prayed. They prayed in congregations, and the people cried “Hallelujah”, “Sweet Jesus”, and the preacher in his thousand dollar suit and hundred dollar silk Trump shirts, and hundred dollar Trump silk ties prayed loudly and longly. All day they prayed. All night they prayed. And it came to pass that one preacher cried from the pulpit “We must build a TV station and broadcast our prayers and the faithful will be healed if they purchase a prayer cloth.” And they did build a great tower for the TV to broadcast, and they did build a great transmitter to spread the call to prayer to all the people so the people could hear and donate a dollar for a prayer cloth. And the people prayed. And the preachers preached and the people sent dollars for prayer cloths and the preachers bought more Trump silk shirts and Trump silk ties.

And the leaders of all the groups looked at all the praying by their groups and each leader did say of their group, “It is good. God will bless us, we will win, and all will worship as we do.”

And it had come to pass, billions of years before the Great Final Ecumenical Council, before prayers could be prayed because there was no one to pray, a great rock aggregated from rubble. It smashed into another rock, and another rock. And it did grow larger over the eons before the great Pray-Off was called. And when the people did begin to pray, the rock tumbled and turned over and over, and did have a final collision, and as the people prayed, the rock did turn towards the planet of prayer. As the people prayed the rock drifted. The people doubled their prayers. And thus the rock drifted.

And it came to pass that the leaders decided on a final prayer effort to determine the Ultimate Religion. On this day, all people met in the Holy Bowl, each separated unto their own group, and again they prayed. “Jesus, hear us”, “God is great. God is good”, “Allah Akbar”, and their efforts were doubled as they did pray. And their efforts were quadrupled as they did pray.

“Look! In the sky! God/Jehovah/Allah is answering! A star is moving.” And each group unto themselves did again increase their prayers to bring this new star to their group, to ensure they would be declared the Ultimate Religion.

And the rock, completing a journey that began 4.5 billion years ago, drew near to the blue ball. But, it drew too near, for it was caught and was cast into a final orbit. It hit the upper edge of the atmosphere and skipped like a stone thrown by a child into a Holy Pool just outside the Holy Bowl. The rock flashed and skipped and flashed and skipped until at last it dove into the atmosphere and became a glorious fireball with a gloriously radiant fiery tail that stretched for miles.

And the scientists, seeing the Holy Fireball, did know the holy truth, and did run like holy hell away from the Holy Bowl in the designated place.

And the people in the Holy Bowl now did truly pray. Some spoke in tongues, others danced and twirled taken up by the Holy Spirit in this monumental effort, and how they did pray. Louder and louder did they pray with a fervency and an energy that had never been seen in prayer groups before. The three final religions raised their voices in praise and joy because the new star was coming to them. Each group believed it would land in their portion of the Holy Bowl, and they would be the Ultimate Religion.

“Glory to God”, cried the preachers over the TV. “God is great,” cried the rabbis at the wall. “Allah!” cried the imams in their towers. Thus was the final shouts and arguments as the incandescent rock did with a mighty blow smite the very center of the Holy Bowl where all the people prayed and did leave a smoking Holy Crater. And after years of praises and prayers, the designated place was at last silent.

And the news media that had faithfully reported for all those years, did do a CNN special report, and the lead reporter did look and did see the Holy Smoke rising from the Holy Crater, and in hushed tones did say, “Holy S**t … that was unfortunate.”

Pink

John threw the covers off his portly form and sat on the edge of the bed. He looked down at the expanse of his belly, and for the thousandth time mumbled something about getting to the gym. Maybe he’d call Howard and set up a game of racquetball.

Oh yeah, that’ll be great, he thought. Coronary in court 3!

“Hey, Tip, how’s your day?” he said to the Jack Russell terrier sprawled on the foot of the bed. Stretching like all dogs do, Tippy wagged his tail, jumped down from the bed and waited for John in the doorway to the bedroom.

The morning sun pooled at John’s bare feet. A light southern California breeze, billowing the curtains she had purchased and he had hung, brought with it the acrid odor of another smoggy day. In the trees outside, sparrows and blue jays had their normal territorial squabbles. He scratched his hair, noted a thinning spot in the mirror, scratched other areas, and stood up — all sixty­-six years and five feet seven inches of him. Grabbing the blanket and sheet, he pulled them into place, threw the pillows on top, and decided “bachelor made” was good enough.

Glancing in the dressing mirror always kept by the bed, he saw his nude profile and grumbled, “God damn, I look like a bowling ball on two legs. Gotta get to the gym.”

Out the bedroom door, he walked the short hallway to the bathroom and made normal male splashes, mumbles, groans, and shivers as he emptied his bladder. Grabbing the sweat shorts he had discarded in a corner of the bathroom the night before, he pulled them on and adjusted the tie around his middle. “You ready for breakfast?”

Tippy responded by bumping into John’s bare calves, doing a quick turn or two, and of course whining. “Well, let’s get’r done.” Padding barefooted to the kitchen, John picked up Tippy’s food bowl, washed and cleaned it, spooned in some canned food, added a scoop of kibble, and some warm water. “Hell, Tip. You eat better than I do. Ok, I know, just not as much.” He sat the bowl down and Tippy gave his approval by burying his snout in the bowl. John next took care of Tippy’s water.

That done, he added water to the tank of the coffee maker, put in a filter and three scoops of the new roast he had bought, and hit brew. He put two eggs in a bowl with a splash of milk, beat the hell out of them with a fork, and turned them into a buttered skillet. Ten minutes later he sat at the table, scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and coffee in front of him.

He trundled back into the bedroom to find yesterday’s T-­shirt and socks. Digging in the closet, he found his (lawn-­mowin’) shoes, the oldest sneakers he had, stained green with grass from ages past. Outside he sat on the front porch, put the socks and shoes on, then realized the first task for this Saturday morning was to fix that busted sprinkler head and pulled the socks and shoes off. Forty­-five minutes later, he was muddy from his bare feet to his knees, and hands to elbows. A streak of mud crossed his forehead, but that sprinkler was fixed. Small yard, quick mow, and a short time later he was putting the lawn mower away and tossing the grass clippings in the green bin. So much for Saturday chores.

As John walked to the side door of his house, Tippy came bursting out of the doggie door with his favorite tennis ball. A brisk game of fetch resulted until Tippy grabbed the ball and disappeared back through the door.

My arrogant twelve pounds of terrier, John thought as the doggie door flapped shut on the disappearing tail.

The sun was climbing over the peak of the garage and the day was beginning to warm up, hiding the hills in a lovely tan haze. It was just another Saturday in the San Gabriel Valley.

John walked back into the house, turned on the swamp cooler in his bedroom, and made sure the windows were open or cracked. He stripped off the now sweaty shorts, shirt, and socks and added them to the laundry bag. He walked back to the bathroom for a shave and a shower.

The gods of hygiene assuaged, he walked through the house and into his office, a towel draped around his neck. The chair cushion whooshed as he settled his bulk into it, turned his computer on, logged in, and checked his email.

A flashing blue note popped up in the upper right corner of the monitor. Just one word: TODAY. It flashed over and over until he could no longer ignore it. John touched the flashing message and dismissed it when the menu popped up.

Fifteen minutes later, TODAY flashed again. Then again in another fifteen minutes. Each time he touched and dismissed the message. The fourth time, John told the computer to shutdown, left the office, plopped in his easy chair, and turned on the TV.Nothing. Normal. He’d seen all the programs on the Science and Discovery channels and had the ID Channel memorized.

Ping. He looked at the TV. Another blinking blue message; TODAY. “Damn it, not now!” He dismissed the message. Fifteen minutes later, another ping.

He turned the TV off, grabbed his iPhone when it pinged, and held the power button until it powered down. He had programmed that alert, for this day each year, and knew there was only one place he could go where he could turn that message off.

John dressed. Walking shorts, white socks, tennis shoes, and a nice shirt — a new one he had just bought. He grabbed a soda from the fridge and walked out the back door, Tippy with him. Outside, Tippy sprinted ahead. When John got there, Tippy was lying between the two chairs sitting in the shade of the peach tree. John sat his soda on the table and looked at the garden. To the left was the peach tree. To the right was her urn, surrounded by blue hydrangeas in full bloom.

This had been her garden. It always grew so well under her care, big ripe tomatoes and beans and peas in season, flowers out of season. Hydrangeas bordered the garden and had been her favorite. This had been their place to sit in the shade of the peach with Tippy at their feet, and just talk about nothing and everything.

Five years ago, John placed her urn in her garden under the hydrangea and left it sealed. The ground seemed to mourn for the gardener. John could only weep that first year in the shade of the peach tree. He avoided the garden, raked the leaves, kept the weeds down and trimmed the hydrangeas back. The garden where sat her urn was now kept bare.

About a year later, Tippy began acting funny one evening. He came bamming through the doggy door, then sat and whined until John looked at him. He turned and ran back to the door. John ignored him. Tippy was back, barked this time, and then whined.

“Alright, alright, I’m getting up.” John huffed and puffed but got his chair down and walked towards the door.

Bam! The doggy door slammed as Tippy ran through it. John saw him at the foot of the outside stairs, sitting and whining, waiting on him. As John stepped down from the last step, Tippy was off to the garden like a shot.

“What is with this damned dog,” he mumbled as he followed that damned dog. Tippy was barking now like he saw someone he knew. John got to the end of the wall that bordered the left side of the garden and looked for that barking mutt of his. There Tippy sat, tail wagging, looking at the hydrangeas and the urn. John saw nothing but a wall of blue pom­pom blossoms, except for one, there in the middle, growing up and out of a crack in her urn. It was where Tippy was staring. It was an hydrangea, but it was pink. She had always tried to grow a pink one but had never succeeded.

So now John sat, Tippy beside him, and he looked at that garden that was now in full bloom. He turned his phone back on and waited for his programmed alert to pop up. TODAY, it said, and now it was flashing pink. He selected it, but this time pressed the OK button. Then he just sat with Tippy beside him, looking at that pink hydrangea, and thought of nothing but everything.