Category Archives: Short Writings

Voice From Beyond

My friend Danny passed away way too young at the age of 24.  He drove off an embankment and that was the sad end for him.  A while after I was in my trailer where I lived in Arcata, CA when the phone rang. “Hey man it’s Dan,” the voice on the line said. I don’t know any other Dan and clearly from the tone he not only expected me to know him, but expected me to be surprised too. I can’t describe the feeling of getting a phone from the “other side.” It felt like the blood rushed out of my body.  I’m sure I turned as “white as a ghost” as the expression goes … as white as the ghost that apparently was speaking to me.

We often talk about ghosts and the after life, do we believe or not, but for the most part we do not know.  Here I was facing the prospect of moving from the whelm not knowing to having an actual experience.  What will become of me now?  I’d be that crazy guy swearing he knows and has talked to the dead, perhaps delivering messages to his family.  My world was about to change for sure … one I replied. There was a chilling cold accompanying the vacant feeling of blood.

“What? Danny?” I managed to say rather meekly. “No, Ken, man.  It’s Ken,” came a reply of relief.  My consciousness came back to reality.  It was my old buddy Ken from when I lived in Maine. He was still alive and kicking … and perfectly capable of making a phone call.  It felt good to get the blood circulating through my body again.  However,it would have been good to talk to Danny one more time.

Raccoon Communication

I woke up early this morning.  After making use of the time to get a little work done, I lay myself down to try to sleep a little bit more.  It was working too, however just as I was about to doze off I heard a strange sound … like a cooing.  I discounted it at first, but the cooing persisted.  It was coming from outside, I could tell, so I wasn’t worried about it.  I knew it was likely a raccoon.  As long as it didn’t find its way through the cat door and inside to the cat food, we won’t have any trouble.  There hasn’t been a raccoon invasion in a long time.  Until now I had not known if they had just not been around or if they had given up trying to get through the cat door.  I used to block it off every night since the last invasion.  However, I had grown lazy about it after a month or so of consistent cat door closure and stopped doing it.  Six or so months had past without an incident.  I, as well as the cats, have been happy about that.

The cooing outside continued.  Sometimes closer, sometimes at a greater distance.  I had to investigate, and I looked out the window into the dark street.  I could hear the cooing across the street.  Then I got a visual and saw the critter running down the sidewalk.  The silouette definitely looked like a raccoon, but I was not sure.  I watched as it crossed the streets, up and down, back and forth.  Then into our yard where it climbed up the tree.  I had to go out to investigate, and I put on my robe.

I turned on the porch light and cracked open the front door.  I heard nothing so walked on out onto the lawn.  Then, I heard the rustling of the tree and the scampering of the critter as it ran away.  That would have put an end to my raccoon adventure for the night, had it not been for my curious and humorous mind.  “What strange behavior,” I thought, for a creature of the night … the scampering back and for and the constant chattering.  Wouldn’t a thieving animal want to be more stealthy as it went about its mission?  The only thing that I could think of is that it had a partner in crime and had been separated from it.  It was running around looking for it … back and forth, calling out to its friend “coo, coo.”  No, the poor raccoons did not have the convenience of cell phone technology to text each other, “Where the f$#% are you.”  Or did they?  Perhaps it was running back and forth and up the tree trying to get the best signal.  The cooing … the phone seeking out a signal.  Raccoon Cellular is just not that strong in Southampton, Benicia.

A Real Abbott and Costello Moment

The scene:  Mom & Jay watching the Giants’ baseball game.  Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper are announcing:

Krukow: He does that a lot like Bobby Bonds always did.
Mom (look of confusion on her face): Bobby Bonds?  Who is Bobby Bonds?
Jay: Bobby Bonds was Barry Bonds’ father.  (Mom still looks confused).
Jay (trying to guess what she is confused about.  Sadly, her cognitive abilities have been declining with her age):  Barry Bonds was the Giants’ big star that retired a few years ago.
Mom:  I know that, but I’ve never heard of Bobby Bonds (she’s trying to put things into perspective)
Mom (here it comes): Who played 1st?
Jay (in disbelieve she just asked that question.  I can’t think of how to reply until I just start laughing):  They both played left field.
Mom (starts laughing and references Abbott & Costello): Who played first (laughing).

She meant who played in Major League Baseball before the other.

Buzzard Road Kill

I almost hit a buzzard on my bike ride today.  I was cruising down a slope about 25 mph when I heard the rustling of a startled animal in the bushes ahead of me.  Suddenly the shape of a huge bird flew out in front of me, just a few feet … I could have reach out and touched it!  I could hear the powerful trusts of its wings as it pushed against the air trying to get further out in front of me.  It’s big read head looked back at me as it gave a couple more trusts of its wings and veered off to the left.  “Wow!” I thought.  Then I started to wonder … who eats the buzzards when they become road kill?

You Never Know What May Happen

I was walking down the street, thinking and worrying about the outcome of something.  I don’t quite remember what.  There some paramedics across the street at a restaurant wheeling a person into the back of an ambulance.  I did not pay it much attention because what I was worrying about seemed more important.  I must have just started thinking positive about the situation because when an old woman’s voice said as I passed a bench, “You never know what’s going may happen,” I was filled with joy about the positive things that can take place that I can not even imagine with my worrisome mind.  I turned to look at her, smiled and said with deep sincerity, “Thank you.”  But instead of what I was expecting, an old woman reading my mind and filling me with the wisdom I needed in the moment, I saw a frail old lady filled with worry herself.  My joy sank.  She was watching the scene across the street, staring her own mortality right in the face.  She said to me, “One minute you might just be sitting there, enjoying lunch and the next minute this …” she motioned to the ambulance.  I said, something back to her, perhaps a little insensitive, “You never know what good may happen,” attempting to give some of the unintended wisdom she gave to me back to her.  I don’t think it worked.  She just shook her head with sadness in her eyes, “You never know what’s going to happen.”  I walked on, a little later regretting I did not stay with her a little longer.

Your Balloons …

(This story was written in an email to my brother after he left for Poland.  I bought him 4 mylar balloons to say “goodbye.”  One said, “Way to Go,” one said, “Sorry You Are Leaving,” and the other said, “Thanks for the things you do.”  The last balloon was printed with the earth.  They were meant to convey the different feelings with someone leaving for an indefinite period of time.)  Here is the rest of the email:

… are still floating in the living room. One of them disappeared. One day I notice the “Way to Go” balloon was gone. I asked mom. We stood there looking … only 3 balloons. She didn’t know what happened to it. I just figured it deflated, she threw it away and forgot about it, so I just let it go.

Yesterday we were pulling out of the driveway to run errands when suddenly she got excited, “Oh look there’s the ‘way to go’.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. “Is that a type of flower?” I questioned and searched the database of my mind for a memory of a “way to go” flower or plant … you know, like a “forget me not?” There was none.

“Look over your right shoulder up in that yard,” she said. I turned and there it was, the “Way to Go” balloon tied to the neighbor’s bushes floating there informing the entire neighborhood that they did a good job.

I thought back to the day before when we had both the rear door and the front door open, allowing that warm breeze to flow through the house thus airing it out but also allowing balloons, not securely fashioned to the edge of the carpet like the other were, to wander on out the front door and explore as no other balloon before it ever had.

Still weighted down, it did not suffer a fate of ascending beyond the vision of people to see, all alone in the sky. It must have just scurried across the street, where the neighbors found it and decided to display it to the passerbys, “Way to Go,” they all can all celebrate in their victories of the day.

A Very Special Christmas Gift

William was a little nervous about Christmas this year. He did not have enough money to spend on gifts so he did what he thought was best. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that it was Christmas morning he was not so sure. Books, after all are something people usually only read once, then they just sit in the shelf. Two weeks ought to be enough time to read a book!

He was very happy with the selection. He thought carefully what everyone in his family would like and hand picked a book from the enormous selection that was available … so many to choose from. He waited until Christmas eve day to pick them out to maximize the time.

The gifts were all passed out with everyone sitting in a circle around the living room with their pile of gifts. The usual tradition of everyone in the family taking turns opening gifts in a clockwise direction was underway. Two whole rounds passed before anyone picked up one of his gifts to open. His father was the first.

His heart started pounding as adrenaline began to course through his body. He started to doubt it was a good idea at all … and why did it have to be his father to open the first one … the man whose approval meant the most to him.

As an avid golfer his father loved the history book of golf in the USA. His smile was big as he flipped through the pages. Obviously it was a used book, but that did not matter too much to him. He knew his son had been struggling in the latest economic down turn. But then he noticed the number on the binding and then the bar code. His smile quickly turned to a concerned frown as he opened the front cover, “Property of the South City Public Library.”

“What?” his father questioned, “what is this?” he turned to William. “It’s a book from the library,” William replied as his voice started to quiver. “I didn’t have enough money for gifts so …,” He stopped explaining when his sister was the first to chuckle. Everyone dug through their pile of gifts, breaking the sequence of turn taking and opened theirs immediately. Every single one, while carefully thought out for each recipient, a library book. The laughter filled the room, Cousin Billy was laughing so hard he was on the floor holding his belly.

William was thoroughly embarrassed, but also felt a little joy knowing he brought this laughter to the family for Christmas. This will be one to remember. As the laughter died down to a point his voice could be heard, albeit with a yell, he shouted, “There is a due date in the back, please make sure you read it and return it by then.”

Then he began to wonder if they would return them so he wouldn’t get stuck with a lofty fine. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. Except Cousin Elise … he knew he could count on her. She always returns everyone’s gifts.

Anatomy of a Cold Water Swim

The alarm clock goes off at 5 AM.  “Crap, what am I doing?” I question myself.  The bed is warm.  Just pulling the covers off a bit I can feel the colder air hit my skin and I pull them, and the warmth, back over my head and hit the snooze one more time.

The temperature in the Bay has dropped to 53 degrees, down from 57 just a few weeks ago.  It is cold!  I have no desire to feel that cold and I have no idea at this time why I’m planning to swim in it.  This is the tipping point.  I could easily just go back to sleep and stay warm.  However I have friends that I promised to meet.  They could vary well be laying in bed at this vary moment with the same struggle, but I don’t know that.  I just know I told them that I’d meet them … and I do enjoy seeing them.  Besides I know I need to keep an exercise routine going, especially this time of year with the holidays.  For some insane reason that is escaping me at the moment, I made open water swimming my exercise of choice.

I give into it and get out of bed to start my routine, packing my swim bag, making a smoothie for breakfast, getting dressed in the warmest clothes I can find and heading out the door for the 15 minute drive to the club.

I arrive at the club.  It is like a death march as I move forward towards something that I have no enthusiasm for, plunging my body into the cold water.  I hear the mumblings from the other swimmers in the locker room as they get ready for their swims, “Why am I doing this again” or “Someone needs to lock me up,” or something like that.  We are all in this together as we move forward changing into our swim gear, leaving the warmth of our bundles of clothing behind.  Somehow I doubt any of us would be doing this if we weren’t all there.

The anticipation is the hardest part … I think.  It can be akin to many things that I do not like to do, but am fine with once I get started.  Public speaking comes to mind.  Heading up to the podium is like a death march, the first few sentences I can hear my voice tremble, but once I’m started is usually goes smooth and I enjoy interacting with the audience.

Jumping into the bay off a boat or dock is much easier than walking in from a beach.  Like pulling a band-aid off in on quick pull, jumping gets it over with compared to letting the cold creep up my body inches at a time when I walk in from the beach.  Once submerged and swimming my first strokes the cold water bites at every inch of my skin.  My head aches like I’ve eaten ice cream too fast and my whole body tries to pull away from the cold that surrounds it.  There is no place for it to go, but forward as I swim and let my body go through its changes with the new environment.

Then after a couple minutes, something happens.  My blood pulls away from my skin into the core to keep it warm.  My skin goes numb and a kind of euphoria sets in.  Now I remember why I do it.  To those of you reading this that have never done it before, these are just words.  Words cannot explain the feeling of joy and refreshment of being in the cold water after getting past that first few minutes.  That is what keeps me coming back.  I want to stay in the water forever and live in it.  My body, however, has other plans.  Eventually I will start to feel too cold.  I do not want to stay in very long past that point, as hypothermia WILL set in.  I look for clues in my body like the inability to keep my fingers together.  That is usually the first sign.  Then I can start to feel the cold digging in a little deeper.  I last about an hour before it is time to get out.

Back on dry land mobility is a bit limited.  I shiver a little and it is difficult to speak.  Putting on clothing can be a challenge as fingers do not move well and limbs tremble with the cold.  After about five or ten minutes the shivering will increase as my body tries to warm up.  This shivering is very unpleasant and will last about twenty minutes unless I have access to a warm shower and/or sauna.  This is usually the case swimming at the club, but not if I’m on a boat.

The warm water of the shower heats up the skin and keeps the shivering to a minimum as it starts to thaw out.  My skin is pink an itches a little as the heat comes back into it.  As my mobility increases I can wash my hair and shave.  After I start to feel warmer I transfer to the sauna where I hear the laughter from the other swimmers.  Everyone is happy.  All those apprehensive faces before the swim are now smiling ear-to-ear refreshed and awake ready to start the day.

I stay in the sauna until I start to sweat.  I put on my clothes in the warm sauna to avoid the cold air hitting my skin when I exit.  Now I’m ready for a cup of hot tea.  I say goodbye to my friends and make promises to see them again … the very same promises I will be cursing myself for the next time the alarm clock goes off and I have to pull myself from my warm bed.

Abandon Hope!!

When I died and got to the gate of Heaven I was bewildered by the sign above the Pearly Gates, “Abandon Hope all Ye Who Enter Here!!”  It’s the type of sign I expect to see leading to a dungeon or something.  I got a chill up the back of my spine and for a minute I panicked and thought I must be in the other place.  Perhaps did not lead such a life of virtue after all.  But there was Saint Peter standing there.  He saw the puzzlement on my face, “Is there a problem?” He asked.  “Isn’t this Heaven?” I replied a little sheepishly. “I’m just a little confused by the sign.  “Aw, yes,” said Saint Peter, “We do not want anyone to have any hope here in Heaven.”   “But I thought Heaven was good?” I said.  “Oh, it is,” affirmed Saint Peter.”  “But then why do you not want people to have any hope, isn’t hope good?”  I asked.  “I can understand you puzzlement,” Saint Peter said, “You see a person that has hope is looking to the future for something rather than being in the moment.  When a person is not being in the moment, how may not enjoy all the benefits of Heaven, here and now?”  Now I understood.  He must have seen the light bulb go off over me head.  “So, are you ready to abandon all hope?” He asked.  I nodded my head, “Then that my son, is Heaven.  Welcome!”

Caught Speeding 80 MPH

The cruise control was set at 80. This is works well for most of Highway 5. On occasions I have to slow down on the two lane highway if a car passing another is not going my speed. Otherwise the slower cars are courteous enough to stay to the right to allow me to pass. Most of highway 5 is barren with the occasional small town. Now, however I had entered into the more densely populated area of Redding. I was traveling from San Francisco to near Yreka when my Aunt lived. Not only had the speed limit reduced from 70 to 65, but there were a lot more vehicles on the road. Two lanes became three. My 80 MPH speed seemed a little faster, but I kept it up anyway.
Then I saw it in my rear view mirror. Still about a quarter of a mile away, the familiar look of a vehicle with a rack of lights on top. Busted? I don’t know. The lights were not flashing but he was gaining on me. I reduce my speed and pulled into the next lane. He follow, but behind another car in back of me. He was still quite a ways away. I pulled into the far right lane and reduced to the speed limit. My strategy was to make it to the next exit and hope he does not follow. No such luck. On came the lights as he approach quickly and over to the shoulder I went.

I get speeding tickets once ever four or five years. There is usually enough time in between tickets that I can always go to traffic school and keep them off my record. While traffic school does take up a whole day of my time, I have rather enjoyed it the past three times that I’ve attended. I enjoy hearing the stories from the instructor and I usually walk away having learned some interesting and valuable information. Here is what I learned one time:

In this case the traffic school was taught by a retired police officer. For some reason he seemed intent in helping us to learn how to avoid future speeding tickets, not by driving more carefully, but by having the officer issue a warning rather than a ticket. He told us that it is nerve racking for an officer to approach a car with unknown people inside. If we do certain things to reduce his/her anxiety, that will increase the chance that we are just issued a warning. These things include keeping our hands in clear sight (he recommended on the steering wheel) and having our license and registration out so we will not need to reach into a concealed space to get it. Let’s see if it worked …

There I was on the side of the road I pulled over as far to the right as I could to give him plenty of space on the shoulder. As soon as I reached a complete stop I opened the glove compartment, took out the registration and put it on the dashboard. The officer was already approaching the car on the passenger side so pulling out the registration was all I could do. My license was still in my pocket and the window was still up. I reached to my left for the window control and with my left hand pushed the button to roll down the passenger side window. My right hand remained on the wheel.

“How are you doing?” The officer asked. He was a friendly younger man, about 25. “Good, you?” I replied. “I’m doing good, look, I pulled you over for speeding. I clocked you around 80.” He was very direct. Another thing I learned was to not argue or make up excuses. I knew I was speeding. “Yep,” I said. “May I see your license, registration and stuff?” I took the registration off my dashboard and handed it to him. I had to reach in my pocket for the license. It was loose in my pocket with some cash and a few other cards. I have not been using a wallet. I shuffled through the stack of cards and cash in my hand until I found the correct card and handed it to him. I went to place the stack of cards on the passenger seat, but there was a $50 bill in the stack. I though it might be construed as a bride so I thought twice and put it in the pocket in the door on the drivers side. “What do you have for insurance?” He asked. Oops, I’d left the insurance in the glove compartment. I wasn’t even sure it was there. I paused for a second and then slowly reached for and opened the glove compartment door. There under the vehicle instruction manual was a piece of paper. I lifted the manual. That was it. I picked it up and handed it to him. I get rather nervous easily so my hands were shaking a little. I’m sure he could see. He asked me a few questions, where was I going, why, where was I coming from … nothing too intrusive. Then he said, “Well,” in the millisecond pause before his next word I realized that he could have followed that with anything. Will I get a ticket? I was not sure, “do you think you can slow down?” he continued. He was going to let me go. Enthusiastically I said, yes. He handed me back my papers, wished me a good day and departed. The whole incident took about 3 minutes of my time and I was off on the road again.

I continued my journey with the cruise control set at the speed limit. It is actually rather easy to keep the speed limit with cruise control. There were times when I wanted to go faster, but I was more interested in honoring my commitment with the police officer that was kind enough to issue me a warning rather than a ticket. I kept the speed limit for the rest of my journey and for the entire drive home a few days later.

I do not know if my actions to keep him more comfortable were the reason he let me go. It couldn’t have hurt.