Monthly Archives: January 2014

Father Eric and the Peanut-butter

Car window stuck down-that was today’s challenge as I headed out the door to make a living.  And where better to have such a problem than downtown Eureka, where lots of people borrow things without asking—usually through open windows.

That scares me more than it once did.  It’s a function of age, vulnerability—and reading the front page, not to mention those news blogs.  I don’t like being unnerved by being outside, even in my own neighborhood.  Furthermore, working for one’s self is hard on the nerves.  You cannot call in sick because there is no back-up.  And, you can dilly-dally your next meal right out the window. I took the car to have the window fixed.

The auto-electric shop wanted cash up front to fix the broken window—money I didn’t have.  In fact, they wanted cash just to diagnose the problem.  So much for free estimates.  Why sympathize with me?  Isn’t that time-consuming, bothersome and bad business?  If you help one deadbeat like me, you’ll have to help them all.  In my view, I needed the window fixed so I could use the car to make the money to have it fixed.  Maybe that conundrum threw them.  I left– the sound of mariachi music blaring from my radio.

I could have spent the whole day fuming over broken windows and rude people.  But that’s allowing dingbats to win.  Instead, I took charge of my emotions.

I went to a place where compassion matters, Betty Kwan Chinn’s downtown center.  It’s the place where empathy spreads like peanut-butter.  There, Betty and her friends teach needy people about personal grooming and people skills, all lessons folks could have used at that auto electric shop.  Maybe I’m the simple one for believing that people deserve a second chance.  When I hear of a better way, I’ll let you know.

Call going to Betty’s place that morning an act of blind faith.  I knew it was when I saw the jars of peanut-butter in the kitchen.  They were, it turned out, a gift of Father Eric Freed.

Betty said she barely knew him.  Once, she had apologized for not going to church more often.  He had told her not to worry about it—that her work is enough.  That’s when he asked her what she needed most for her center.  “Peanut butter,” she replied.  So Father Eric wrote the check, $500, the words “peanut butter” scrawled in the memo.

There in her kitchen the day of my visit, volunteers were spreading peanut butter on loaves of bread, meals for the homeless and hungry.  It was the peanut butter purchased by Father Freed.

Debate over what to do about the “homeless” has polarized us.  Sadly, Father Freed’s death has only heightened that emotion as we poke around for whom to blame.  And in our clumsiness to affix that blame, we hurt the very people who deserve it least.

Betty said it was smart of me to latch on to Nina, who suffered in Korea what Betty suffered in China.  It helps me better understand Betty just as I tried with Nina.

For me, it is hard to forgive when you lose someone so close.  I’ve done it twice in one year.  But it is easier to find solace in the things they have left behind.  With Nina, it’s the mink coat I bought her at the Humboldt Sponsors Rummage Sale, a coat so inappropriate around here—but so Nina.  With Father Freed, it’s the peanut butter.

Love is not always popular or clearly defined.  But you know it when you see it.

Why I Work in a Pawnshop

“I love you—but I’m not IN-LOVE with you,” said the college girlfriend.  That was love’s doublespeak for “Don’t let the screen-door hit you on the way out.”  Since I haven’t heard from her in 50 years, I assume it’s over.

My media profession is changing too.  Once, a good voice and hair-grease was sufficient.  Now, one has to play more than one instrument to be in the band.  That’s why I am learning Spanish and scampering from one money-making opportunity to another.  Life is upping the ante.   It reminds me of my days with Nina.  Washing one dish in the sink used to be sufficient.  Then she wanted me to wash two.  What next, wash them all?  Change is scary.

On the other hand, change is opportunity.  I am expecting 2014 to be full of them and already I am standing taller.  Or maybe it’s just my orthopedic shoes.

I’ve just moved on to the next progression in a sequence of self-expression.  I work for Bob’s Pawndamonium pawn shop now.  I’m their eBay guru, writing their on-line listings.  I make you want stuff by the way I describe it.  I write the prose that makes the whole world sing, the flowery language that makes one want to bid on something.  It doesn’t matter what.

My words can turn the mundane into magic.  Check this out: You can own a piece of Humboldt history, a small metal device used to bond together historic documents: divorce decrees, search warrants and temporary restraining orders.  They’re also great for storing reams of police paperwork for unsolved property crimes.  Yes, purchase my paper-clips, identical to those used by the city’s great bureaucrats.

Searching pawnshops for my stolen tommy-gun this summer has awakened me to the wonders of dusty, unclaimed merchandise.  As a culture, we should be immensely proud of the things we buy and do not need.  It’s amazing what people around here will do for kicks when they already have unpolluted skies and clean water.

Just this week, I’ve made a bunch of money for Bob’s Pawndamonium.  I sold a print of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winning the Daytona 500.  Prints once sold on-line for $250.  I flipped it on eBay, the world’s marketplace, and hauled in $10.  Figure in postage, and I lost less than $20.  At this rate, it will take me a lot longer to be stone-cold broke than I feared.  America, the beautiful.

Bob told me not to worry about it.  They love me.  They’re just not yet “in-love” with me.  I’ve been there before.

I remember when I was young, vigorous and employable, I worried about being expendable.  It kept me up nights and made me nervous about everything.  Now that I really am expendable, I don’t care anymore.  There comes a point when nothing matters that much—nothing but the air I suck into my lungs each morning.

I’m working independently now—free to be very rich or very poor, neither of which appeals to me.  I just want to be very “Dave,” on TV telling you what you need to know to be safe, happy and celebrate the ones we love.  My cat Amadeus likes having me around the house for more “me” time.  Or, as he prefers to call it, “meow-time.”

And on Craigslist, they are looking for “free-minded models not ashamed of their own bodies.”  That gig has my name written all over it.


Home Where I Belong

Fire crackled in the fireplace as Nina puttered in the kitchen.  Life in our little Cutten cottage was simple and beautiful.

Then, smoke from the fire would billow out through the house, alarms in every room erupting in a symphony of distress.  I had built the fire for Nina, but I lacked her finesse for stacking wood.  Once again, I had set the world on fire.

Still, that little place was ours, tranquil and loving.   With champagne and candles, we celebrated our first home together.  We shared our world with loving neighbors, deer, raccoons and bears—and Ted and Susan.

I missed it, even though our house on Buhne Street was so much bigger.  It even had a fireplace, gas-fueled so I couldn’t mess it up.  She loved new houses, though she waited until the last minute to tell me where my personal space would be.  “Just show me where to stow my gear,” I said.

We passed many happy hours there too, me typing away in the sunroom, Nina watching Korean soap-operas.  She would rake the leaves as I barked encouragement from a safe distance.  She was so much better at raking.

I knew how to work little and look busy.  Wash one dish in a sink full of them and she would say, “Thank you, my man.”  She knew she was married to a slacker, but real love can tolerate anything—even me.

That changed when I lost her in that crosswalk just outside our bedroom window.  In the months that followed, I tried to make the best of it.  I switched around the living room couch so I could fall asleep watching something other than my front door.  I can still see headlights flashing on the ceiling.

Change is frightening.  This summer, I wondered where I would live and work and who would look out for me.  I have often wondered such things—but not at the same time, and not at my age.  Losing job, wife and home all at once is frightening—until the numbness sets in.  My Nina would have said, “We’ll figure something.”  And somehow we did.

Her last intentions for me—where and how I would live– were not clear and not binding.  It was up to her family and me to figure it out.  That we have– in one tense and, I hope, forgiving day.

With our attorneys, we met in separate rooms.   A mediator, a retired judge, shuffled back and forth, his posture worsening by the hour.  Outside was bitter cold.  Inside, the devil was in the details.  You’ve heard the expression, “a snowball’s chance in hell.”  This was the hell they were talking about.

With their attorneys and mine, Peter Martin, we hacked away at the things that divide us– speaking not a word to each other directly.   I love them still –and so miss their mother.

Maybe the feeling is mutual.  By the end of the day, we agreed to what I always wanted, return to the little Cutten house for the rest of my life.  After that, it is theirs.  I suggest a Dave’s Graceland, museum of my sports memorabilia and useless junk.  Also a meditation room to reflect on my dingbat decisions.  That’s up to them.

So it is home where Nina and I began a beautiful life—home where my heart is.

Remembering Father Eric Freed

“I’m going away to a secret place for a couple of days,” said Father Eric Freed to his congregation New Year’s Eve.  Then, in the Japanese he fluently spoke, he sang his own recessional out the door of Saint Bernard’s Church and into the night.

It was the last time he would speak to us and, in its eerie beauty, what he would have said if he had known what the night would bring.  And maybe prophetically he did.

Hours later, he would die in his own rectory at the hands of someone he would likely have fought to protect.  There are cruel ironies in the fate of this man we loved.  In his own way, he helped me understand these sacred mysteries.

Father Freed was saying mass the moment the Vatican selected its new pope, Pope Francis.  I remember dashing across the street from my office, handing him the news during his homily.  “We have a new pope,” he proudly announced, and I knew at once that I was meant to be a messenger.

When a baby cried in church, Father Eric would smile.  “It’s God’s voice,” he would tell his parishioners at St. Bernard’s Church.  He would read my columns, and when I mentioned his rapture with other peoples’ kids and he slyly made note of my words.  “Thanks for being clear that the babies aren’t mine,” he laughed.

His humor disarmed me.  That’s why I had always liked the priest who assumed leadership of the parish three years ago.  When I told him I was happy about that, he replied, “Yeah, I guess you’re stuck with me.”

He had promised to have coffee with me to discuss linguistics and football, his other passions.  He had also promised to help me find a Latin American mission, there to use my Spanish and love for children.  He had a way of helping me think beyond myself.

Through Father Eric, I began my weekly visits to St. Joseph Hospital.  Every Sunday morning, he would dispatch me from mass to “go complete your mission.”   I would walk hospital hallways to visit the sick, some gravely ill.  I hated clichés meant to comfort people.  “Everything will be fine” seemed inadequate to the very sick and Father Eric told me that just being there was sufficient.  Often, that’s all I had.

He knew that’s all he had too.  The day Nina died. Father Freed stood at my front door to embrace me.  Then, he walked to the intersection outside our house to pray over Nina.

Forgiving—that was a tougher assignment.  In one of our last conversations, I told him that I had forgiven the driver of the truck that killed my Nina.  He nodded approvingly, knowing how difficult and fundamental that is.  As one of eight children, he learned to forgive.  It came with the territory.

At Nina’s funeral, and scores of others, Father Eric referred to life as parenthetic, preceded and followed by something divine.  We could be sad about the ones we miss, but comforted in knowing we never lose them.  I feel that way about him.

I’ll prefer to remember the sound of him pacing upstairs in the rectory, a football game blaring from his two televisions.  Yes, two.  He didn’t want to miss a sports moment.  Better still, I’ll remember him when a baby cries.

As Father Eric would close, “I’ll let that be my reflection.”