Monthly Archives: November 2013

Accepting Guilt — Giving Love

“Did you ever find that gun?” asked the hairstylist.  That’s right, even in a place where they paint toes and wax eyebrows, people are talking about the tommy-gun that someone took from me.  It may not be the crime of the century but it sure feels that way to me.

It’s already been a roller-coaster summer for me, testing the patience of one who forgives.  It’s easy when people know they have messed up.  That opens the possibility that they will not again make the same mistake.  Heck, in some churches, confession is holy, if not just darned good for the soul.

When I messed up, my wife Nina would tell me.  Her stare or stone-cold silence spoke volumes.  And when I erred, I apologized, often in writing.  That was the nature of our bond, a savvy businesswoman and a nit-wit, bound by love not even her family understood.

Once, at a professional conference, I spent more time talking to journalism students than I did to Nina.  I returned to our room to find her lying speechless in bed.  I had hurt her.  Nothing I said could change that.   So for 20 years, I tried harder to show my love.

What does love look like?  For us, it was cruising casino parking lots and seedy trailer parks looking for lost sheep, errant family-members.  And sometimes I would go alone, venturing into dangerous places.

In the process, I met unusual people with odd nick-names like “Bullfrog” and “Sprinkles.”  Amiable people, they were.  And I got to know Eureka’s urban landscape, its pot-grows and party places.  I also met its Generation X, kids with purple hair and nose rings.  Ours were folksy chats: “Sorry about your wife.  Wanna try some weed?  Can I borrow your bike?”  All of it sounded so foreign to me.

Naturally, my family tried to protect me.  “Don’t talk to that guy,” they would caution.  But how odd it was that these strange creatures knew how to find my front door?  Through no fault of mine, my neighborhood had become the nexus of new family values, a virtual “Leave it to Beelzebub.”

That’s why it was easy for me to befriend a guy in prison for life.  He knew he messed up and he knew he wouldn’t be doing it again. I am happier for knowing him and certainly, I will visit him again.   Life here at home is not so clear.

Nina was my safety-net.  As crazy as life could be, she would always be there.  Sure there were times when I wondered why she needed me.  I just knew she did.  That was enough.  And of course I needed her.  The moment I realized she was gone, I knew that life for us would dramatically change.

Of course I didn’t need the tommy-gun.  In fact, no one in the family knew I had it.  It’s not something that pops up in conversation.  Still, I showed it off one day this summer to family members, and then showed them where I kept it.  That’s why, when it turned up missing one day, I thought first of them, painful as that was.  It had happened once before with Nina’s jewelry and my camera.

Guilt is a quirky thing.  Nobody likes to own it.  And yet, as imperfect beings, we do sooner or later.  That is why we have overworked police, prioritizing cases by their violence factor.  Literally, a head-butt trumps a light-fingered butt-head.

I celebrate guilt because it is within our power to accept it, an affirmation of life itself.  To be guilty is to be human.  To accept that guilt is to love.  I am…guilty as charged.

Accepting Guilt — an Act of Love

“Did you ever find that gun?” asked the hairstylist.  That’s right, even in a place where they paint toes and wax eyebrows, people are talking about the tommy-gun that someone took from me.  It may not be the crime of the century but it sure feels that way to me.

It’s already been a roller-coaster summer for me, testing the patience of one who forgives.  It’s easy when people know they have messed up.  That opens the possibility that they will not again make the same mistake.  Heck, in some churches, confession is holy, if not just darned good for the soul.

When I messed up, my wife Nina would tell me.  Her stare or stone-cold silence spoke volumes.  And when I erred, I apologized, often in writing.  That was the nature of our bond, a savvy businesswoman and a nit-wit, bound by love not even her family understood.

Once, at a professional conference, I spent more time talking to journalism students than I did to Nina.  I returned to our room to find her lying speechless in bed.  I had hurt her.  Nothing I said could change that.   So for 20 years, I tried harder to show my love.

What does love look like?  For us, it was cruising casino parking lots and seedy trailer parks looking for lost sheep, errant family-members.  And sometimes I would go alone, venturing into dangerous places.

In the process, I met unusual people with odd nick-names like “Bullfrog” and “Sprinkles.”  Amiable people, they were.  And I got to know Eureka’s urban landscape, its pot-grows and party places.  I also met its Generation X, kids with purple hair and nose rings.  Ours were folksy chats: “Sorry about your wife.  Wanna try some weed?  Can I borrow your bike?”  All of it sounded so foreign to me.

Naturally, my family tried to protect me.  “Don’t talk to that guy,” they would caution.  But how odd it was that these strange creatures knew how to find my front door?  Through no fault of mine, my neighborhood had become the nexus of new family values, a virtual “Leave it to Beelzebub.”

That’s why it was easy for me to befriend a guy in prison for life.  He knew he messed up and he knew he wouldn’t be doing it again. I am happier for knowing him and certainly, I will visit him again.   Life here at home is not so clear.

Nina was my safety-net.  As crazy as life could be, she would always be there.  Sure there were times when I wondered why she needed me.  I just knew she did.  That was enough.  And of course I needed her.  The moment I realized she was gone, I knew that life for us would dramatically change.

Of course I didn’t need the tommy-gun.  In fact, no one in the family knew I had it.  It’s not something that pops up in conversation.  Still, I showed it off one day this summer to family members, and then showed them where I kept it.  That’s why, when it turned up missing one day, I thought first of them, painful as that was.  It had happened once before with Nina’s jewelry and my camera.

Guilt is a quirky thing.  Nobody likes to own it.  And yet, as imperfect beings, we do sooner or later.  That is why we have overworked police, prioritizing cases by their violence factor.  Literally, a head-butt trumps a light-fingered butt-head.

I celebrate guilt because it is within our power to accept it, an affirmation of life itself.  To be guilty is to be human.  To accept that guilt is to love.  I am…guilty as charged.

Fleas Release Me

Call it life’s apostrophe.  Or in my case, life’s apostro-flea.  That’s right, the little buggers once thought to be the burden only of fur-bearing animals have been making certain that I am not living alone.

They lept into my landscape this summer, as they have for lots of people.  Pest control folks say a long, warm summer for us made it possible. Score one more for global warming, I guess.  The weather helped to incubate more flea eggs.  Turned sunny-side up, they hatched in lawns, carpets, upholstery–any possible safe-haven.

The trouble is that you can feel them, but you cannot see them.  Feel me?  And if you are lucky enough to catch one, it won’t be for long.  They leap seven inches at a time and live off the lifeblood of a family and give nothing in return–a virtual welfare check.

When I was young, fleas were fun.  I would spend hours with my cat as I hunted them.  Mine was a special childhood.  But for years, I didn’t have a problem.  For one thing, fleas don’t like the cold.  They hate Maine winters.  Humboldt is another story, a virtual pest haven.

I first noticed them around Labor Day.  My cat, Amadeus, was scratching excessively, especially near his head.  For some reason, fleas like to get into your head, much as relatives who won’t go away.

Mom used to say that “this too shall pass.”  So I thought that they too would move along.  But, no.  I thought of distracting myself by watching television.  Hours of Obama-care debates later, I chose to think again about the fleas.  My life became a “One Flea Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

I incorporated my struggle into my Spanish lessons,  In Spanish, a flea is a “pulga,” and the verb for “jump” is “saltar.”  I could literally “flea” to Latin America.

I have often been warned about revealing family secrets.  And so I learned my lesson.  People stopped coming over, and if they did, they didn’t stay long.  Too bad, too, because I had so much to say.  But then came the last leap.  My Spanish teacher said I couldn’t come over until the fleas were gone.  I had brought them to her house with me.

Of course I understand.  Who wants their house to become a flea circus like mine?

Of course there are home remedies.  Washing and drying blankets, sheets and bedspreads is one.  Another is placing pans of soapy water under reading lights at night.  Attracted to the light, the fleas will land and drown in their own suds.  Or in my house, they’ll lie in their bathtub and read.

Things are better now.  I have treated my cat, Amadeus.  I have also had a pest control company spray the house twice.  Next is a temporary restraining order.

I have also learned that people get tired of hearing about your problems, especially if they can become their problems too.  When my friends would ask “How about your flea problem these days?” they are really asking about their own safety.  Even hemorrhoids are a better topic because not everybody gets them.

So I have learned my lesson from the lowliest of creatures.  Keep your personal problems on the down-low unless you are itching for attention.  But get yourself a good attorney.

The Miracle of Re-inventing Yourself

Wearing my mother’s full-length rabbit-fur coat, I headed out the door that Halloween night.  I was a nine-year old East Palo Alto boy, trick-or-treating for my bag of candy.

“Look at this fellas,” said the young man answering the door down the street.  “Who are you?  A gorilla?” he asked as the others laughed.

“I am not!” I snapped.  “I’m a fur-trapper from the North.”  If he knew anything about the history of the Northwest, he would have known that.

Who the heck did he think he was—some Stanford University frat boy?  Yes, he was.  And for the rest of my life, I’ve had ambivalent feelings about that place.

Fat chance I would ever accept a full-ride scholarship from them.  They must have known that, too, because they never offered.

I wasn’t good at re-inventing myself for Halloween—or any other time for that matter.  Years later, invited to a gay Halloween party, I slipped a trash-bag over my head and went as solid waste.  I was the life of the party.  Or more accurately, the death of it.  Things got ugly until they “outed” me as the hetero-spouse of the woman who brought me.

Now that I think about it, it hasn’t always been easy being the spouse of the woman who brought me.  For 20 years, I was Nina’s spouse until suddenly this summer—I lost her.  Then, to her family, I was the squatter living in her house.  Too bad they missed how much I loved her.

To say that her death has left me in limbo would be an understatement.  In similar times, I would have sought my loving mother.  But I had already lost her too.  Such is the peril of growing old—when “limbo” is a way of life.

“How could I live without teaching?” I would ask myself as I puffed up the hill to my College of the Redwoods classes.  Soon enough I would learn.   One day they told me I was doing a good job but shortly thereafter discontinued my class.  Part-timers like me, the majority of the workforce, have had a rough time there.  In fact, the only way to make sure you get recognition there is to be bitten by a shark.  An English teacher friend of mine did and I’ll bet he still worries about job security.

But rather than re-inventing myself, I have found loving people to help, especially around here.  You just have to give them an opportunity.

One day, I was visiting the sick as a volunteer when an elderly agitated woman snapped at me.  “Holy Mackerel!  Who are you, a priest?  What parish?” she growled.

“Holy Mackerel,” I responded.

In subsequent visits, I found her equally ornery and combative.  It happens when you are 90 and you hurt.  Finally, one day she began crying, saying she was mad at God and she wanted to die.

I told her that wasn’t my call—and either way, I would love her now and forever.  She quieted and let me kiss her hand.

It’s amazing what love can do—how it allows us to reinvent ourselves.  Or maybe it helps us to realize who we really have been all along.