Monthly Archives: March 2014

Love in a Dominican Church

I got kicked out of a Dominican church service.  Okay, I exaggerate.  I was told I was not welcome and getting in the way with my cheap little camera.  Yup, getting in the way of God’s work.  Is that possible?  Apparently so when you are messing up their big-time video production—spotlights, costumed dancers, band.

So what’s the big deal?  Somebody messed with Dave.  That’s what.  Nobody does that.  Nobody.

My latest dust-up with divinity happened in a baseball park in the Dominican city of Santiago, venue for a flashy service—a glitzy masterpiece of show-business complete with stage managers and security guards.  As foreign correspondent for Access Humboldt, I couldn’t wait to show the folks back home.

I forgot that things work differently there.  The have’s and have-not’s are canyons apart.  If you have money, you have a shiny car, safe neighborhood and an all-access pass to everything.  Poor people over 60 don’t have health insurance because they assume you already have died.

If you have ever felt irrelevant to anybody, you know what I mean.  It dismantles your soul.  You are a teacher without a class, a TV reporter without a newscast, a father without a family, a spouse without a partner.  That’s when faith kicks in.

It happened my last night in Santiago.  It had been a long week of disappointment for me.  It is no country for old men.  I had been fantasizing of new life in a new land, sipping mango juice under a palm tree.  I thought of a job, a life, a family—rebirth in the Caribbean.  It would not be possible—certainly not practical.  There are too many variables for an old guy.  If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be fantasy.

No money, not enough food and no more patience, I was ready to come home.  That is when I heard the amplified voice of a preacher and then his wife.  I followed the sound through the dark and dangerous streets where I stayed.

He was in the middle of one of his spirited sermons, waving his arms, shouting and jumping as his followers, children and adults, raised their arms and cheered.  Suddenly, he spotted me and motioned me in, his wife walking toward me.

“I just want some pictures,” I told her in Spanish and she relayed the message to him.  It must have struck a chord, because he began waving his arms and pointing at me.  They shouted and cheered again, as if I were some outer-worldly prophet appearing from beyond.

Finished with his sermon, he motioned to me again and put down the microphone.  He asked me to speak.  Then he stepped back.

A hush fell over the room, men women and children staring at me, waiting for what I would say.  I wasn’t sure myself.

I took a breath and began to speak in Spanish, words flowing one to another.  I said that I admired their faith and fortitude and that they would always be my family.  They crowded around me.  Children took my hand.

I’m still not sure what happened.  You can draw your own conclusions.  But it was something transformative, making purpose of life’s pain and loss.  Something as simple as light in the darkness—and something just as beautiful.

Poetry in the Past

“My house talks to me,” wrote my mother.  “It tells me breezes blow, that raindrops fall, that birds are nesting in the eaves.”

Elisabeth, my mother, wrote that poem in the final years of her life, living alone in her Visalia home.  She was 84.  Her three boys were grown and gone, her husband, my father, remarried and moved away.

Her poem hints of wistful silence—long days alone.  Sometimes she would hear the click of the front door as if someone were coming in– a husband, a son.  At first it bothered her that now there was no one there.  Then, in time, it comforted her.

I miss my mother—more so when I read these words, discovered recently by my aunt, sorting through random documents.  How I could share so many of the same feelings these days of breezes, rain and nesting birds.  My house is silent too now.  Gone are the giggles, grunts and slamming doors of an active family—Nina and her family.  Gone the good and the bad.

Scary to face life alone?  You bet.  Suddenly, one is faced with obsession to make every minute count mixed with the prayer to do nothing at all.  It’s hard to find that balance.

I’m doing it in much the same way my mother did, writing and reflecting.  Her poem was clearly written to herself, as much of my writing is.  But I am sure she found solace in her own words.  Jumbled thoughts make sense in print.

That is how I have tried to make sense of this summer alone in my house, a summer of fleas, broken pipes and daylight burglary.  But it has also been a summer of peace and reflection, life inching ever closer to my understanding.

My mother taught me a lot about memories, good and bad.  She kept hers a personal journey.  For years, I saw in my mother’s bedroom the clipping of a blonde toddler.  She had framed it and put it on the wall near her bed.

“Who is she?” I finally asked.  It was what my sister would have looked like had she survived.  Eight years before I was born, Judith Claire Silverbrand died of pneumonia.  She was six months old.  The picture was a singular statement about a mother’s love.

We all cling to material things, as if memories would fade without them.  I still have the old 45’s of my first radio job.  Saturday nights in our Cutten home, Nina and I would play them on an old turntable.

I now work in radio, writing and reading news.  At home I try to think about everything else– why dishes pile in the sink, why I don’t have patience to sort my laundry and how I can make my cat Amadeus happy.  He deserves that.  He is always there when I need him.  Maybe he has no choice and maybe he is applying for other jobs.

If houses did talk, as my mother imagined, ours in Cutten where I am returning would tell of two proud people, Nina and me, and our life together.  I’ll think of the steer that threw me in Ferndale one night.   I came limping home from a TV story, pain from shoulder to shank.  With a good-night kiss and a couple of aspirin, Nina tucked me in.  For that alone, the pain was worth it.

When You’re Low on Gas

Midnight in Laytonville.  Twenty dollars in my pocket and ten miles worth of gas left in the tank.  The gas station was closed.  Only a credit card would get me home.

That’s when I decided I need one again.  I can’t be trusted with them.  But then, apparently, I can’t be trusted without them.  Luckily, a trusting motorist with a card took my money and gave me the gas.  I made it home with 20 miles of gas to spare.

The following Monday, I went to the bank to share my optimism and ask to borrow their money.  My horse, “Super-glue” in the fifth race, would be coming in, I would tell them.  A one-thousand dollar credit-line for me would be great in the meantime.  They wouldn’t be sorry.

The bank lady typed in my information and said her computer was considering my offer.  It pondered in silence for what seemed like hours.  Then it came back with a “counter-offer,” to use her affirmation.     The offer: “No way.”

Actually, she said the bank would give me a $1500 credit line if I gave them the money up-front first.  In other words, if I gave them the cash first, they would loan it back to me.  They just wanted me to walk away with a sense of hope and satisfaction.  Cash, no.  Pride, yes.

They later sent me a note saying I had been “selected” for their program, a flashy debit card as long as I paid up front.  In other words, I had been selected for rejection.

Truth be told, I don’t mind being on a “no-fly” list for a credit card.  Nor do I mind being stuck in Laytonville at midnight with no gas.  It’s part of life’s adventure.  And I can’t wait for the next turn in the road.

There is something to be said for not knowing where the next mile is coming from, just as it is not being sure of your next heartbeat.  I know about both.   Initially, I freaked out when I learned that my every heartbeat would be regulated by a pacemaker.  I wouldn’t survive without it.

That has sensitized me to the value of every breath and how important it is to use them wisely.  That’s why I get cranky when other people do not approach life with the same sense of urgency.

Driving home from Laytonville that night, I savored every mile—every tree, every road sign.  I also thought about loved ones waiting for me, my cat crying and purring at the kitchen door.  It made arriving home all the more special.

I now feel the same about life, especially its darkest times.  I look back at my last year in wonderment.  I had depended on so much to make me happy, teaching college, a TV job and of course Nina, all painfully and suddenly ripped away, leaving me to fend for myself, stranded in a metaphoric Laytonville.  And yet I am still here.

I find great comfort in that and pass it on to anyone who has wondered where misfortune comes from—why we lose people of great value like Father Eric Freed.  And there is no answer—not that we would understand.  By the same token, we’re still here, and that’s no accident.

If anything, I am what I drive, a battered old Lincoln with dents in the side, a broken tail-light and low on gas.  That’s me.  And yet, every morning, the engine starts and the gears engage.  It is ready to take me to a new place.  And I am ready to go.

Nina’s Old Lincoln

The old Lincoln rocketed off into the night, a tiny Korean lady behind the wheel.  I knew at once she would be a force of nature.

And so ended a blind date at the Eureka Inn, my first with Nina, arranged by match-maker Margie Dart of Arcata.  She had charged me two bucks for Nina’s name and number, and for that I had bought an hour’s rapture in the Palm Lounge, two awkward people groping for romance.

I had promised to call Nina again.  Who wouldn’t call a stunning beauty like that?  And then she was gone, her Lincoln roaring off into the night.  Twenty years with her passed just as quickly.

She loved Lincolns.  She insisted on one to take her care home residents to their medical appointments.  “They deserved comfort,” she would say.  And no other car would do.  She also rarely drove it out of the city.  So the consequence was an armored personnel carrier with low mileage.

She had just bought a new Lincoln, raven black with satellite tracking and in-dash video.  But the old silver Town Car stayed.  Old habits and old Lincolns never die.  If only that were true of the people we love.

I still drive it, though it is clearly too big for me.  I sideswipe and back into things.  The turning signal and tail-lights are gone, thanks to separate collisions with immovable objects.  And a dark crease runs from stem to stern from an ill-fated attempt to double-park.  I am not an accident waiting to happen.  I am the accident.

It also shows signs of age.  The passenger side door won’t open and the driver’s side won’t close.  It is losing oil and a warning tone tells me that it is out of fuel.  Maybe that is because I have not filled the tank in months.  It is its own ambulance of unmet needs.

Maybe that’s why I cried all the way to San Francisco that day.  I was headed again to the Dominican Republic, my attempt to put time and distance between my life and my loss of Nina.  But the Lincoln had never been meant for that, nor for me.  And yet we are forced onward simply because we are here.

I left it in the parking lot of the motel, half-hoping that someone would steal it.  But no.  Any good car thief knows that a hoopty-hoop like that one will mess up his profit margin.

My week there had been no escape.  I missed Nina and missed my cat, left to a friend to watch.  I had relied so much on both to comfort me.

The way back wasn’t any easier.  After flying for twelve hours, I was driving through the night, rain splattering on the windshield.  A California Highway Patrol officer pulled me over to see if I had been drinking.  I had been weaving across the road.  And my tail-light was out.  If he had time, I would have bought him coffee to tell him the whole story.  I could also tell him of the shiny new Lincoln, Nina’s Lincoln, that sits untouched in my garage.

I’m told that things will be better.  I’ll be able to afford a newer and smaller car and live a comfortable life in a new home.  Maybe so.  But I’ll drive the old silver Lincoln until it sputters and stops, its tail-lights gone, its electronic windows stuck open, its driver’s side door hanging on its hinges and its seat-covers torn beyond repair.

Old habits die hard.  And so do old memories.


Striking Gold in the Pawn Business

“Congratulations.  Your item sold!” went the eBay email.  It was my first big sale for Bob’s Pawndamonium, my killer client in my new promotion business.  For Bob, I had taken a $250 Dale Earnhardt print and sold it for a cool ten bucks.  My commission, a buck and a half, almost enough for a hot-dog at Costco.

Big problem.  I had to cover the cost of sending it, frame and all.  There went my commission and then some.  My first foray into self-employment was a NASCAR wreck.  Trying to please everybody—Bob, some kid in Tennessee, not to mention P.G. and E., wasn’t going so well.  It’s a good darned thing I believe in miracles.  I’d be in trouble without them.

Enter my faith, the one thing no one has been able to mess with.  I decided to be Dave.  I told Bob at the pawnshop I’m a screw-up—as if he didn’t know.  And I told the buyer, the NASCAR kid, I would fulfill my part of the bargain.  The kid wrote— “thank you and i am alradey [sic] for to come. i got a place were [sic] i will put it.”   You have to love that kid.

So for much of a Saturday, when I could have been getting life in order, I was packing up the picture so that it would not break.  To send it cost me more money than I could afford.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the post office, a strange sense of pride.

Suddenly, my job performance, which wouldn’t be good enough for some people, was good enough for me.  I’d pay back the pawnshop, and somewhere in the heartland, some kid will hang the photo of his hero.  Bad for business.  Good for me.

I got the same sense of pride sending a dusty old mandolin to a man in the Deep South.  “I bet I saved a bunch of money on that mandolin, didn’t I?” said Clyde proudly in his deep southern drawl.  Yes he did.  I could see Clyde picking “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” his bird dog snoring under the porch.

Often, we are caught up in the gears of other’s expectations.  When we fall short, we think we have failed.  But in thinking so, we have failed ourselves.  So instead of lamenting what we are not, we celebrate who we are.  It sometimes helps to write out the things you like about yourself, just in case others around you forget to do so.  And they will.

Not everyone will agree.  And sometimes nobody does.  Often, I have beaten-up myself over the people I have disappointed—brothers, daughters, bosses, spouses, families.  If only I could generate more company revenue or family income, they would have loved me.  The TV station would have kept me.  My daughter would have loved me.

But that is to surrender to a standard that is short-sighted and unfair.  And besides, for many of them, you could not have done enough.  Never enough.

That is why I have found people who understand and forgive.  Lots of them live among us.  One morning, an auto technician appeared at my front door.  He had read my column about my broken car window and the repair shop that would not fix it without cash up front.  The man at my door wanted to fix my car for nothing, no questions asked.

Change is frightening.  But change is easier to face when you focus on things that stay the same– among them, your own beauty and—with faith, the love you need.

When is it Time to Retire?

“Thank you for your many years of service to television,” says the tuxedoed emcee to me at the banquet.  “And in recognition, we’re giving you this computer external hard-drive.”

“No way,” I sob in disbelief.  My years in TV had counted for something.  What, I wasn’t sure.  But then, I was the last to know anything– let alone what to do with an external hard-drive.

It’s a fantasy, that retirement party.  Reality—the end of local TV as we know it– is much more subtle.  I knew something was up in the TV biz when others around me began disappearing—on-air people, sales people, technicians, everyone who made the business work.  But somehow, I still had a job.  Still, I felt like the old possum-hunting hound-dog who came home to find that the family farmhouse had become a shopping mall.

I can identify with Jay Leno, Johnny Carson or anyone else who has seen the world change around them and decided to make a graceful exit—a decision made with someone else’s “help.”  And as them, I feel as if I am the luckiest man alive.  And oh, how I wish I could do it all over again.

I knew the TV folks didn’t know what to do with me.  It’s not their fault.  Now, you can operate a TV station almost automatically and practice your guitar at the same time.  I’ve seen it for myself.  Video tape and cathode ray tubes are things of the past.

Old habits die hard, and mine was working for a living, even when there was no living.  Said the Social Security people, “We expect you to be retired by now.”  So did my TV bosses, I guess.

I thought about it, right up to the day Brian Papstein, “Mover of Mountains,” (his real job-title), came to my front door.  He and his wife Angela run Eureka Broadcasting including KWSW and the Spanish language Juan 790 a.m.  Brian bore frankincense and myrrh—actually two bottles of Pepsi sweetened with Latin American sugar cane.  He had me at “I hope you’re not busy.”  Indeed, I wasn’t.  The rest is history, all two weeks of it.   But in broadcasting, that is a long time.

Still, I long for something more.  It comes with my territory.  Living with a battery-operated pacemaker will do that.  It paces me every second of my life.  It makes one anxious and impatient—but also open and loving.  In my last conversation with Father Eric Freed, we talked about working with the poor of other countries.  I am seeking to do just that.

As you know, I already have done so, spending time in the Dominican Republic.  Some people among us suggest bussing our troubled people somewhere else.  That’s not what Father Freed would do.  With tighter security, he could have forever insulated himself from a perilous world.  He chose not to and I understand.   I prefer to go where the peril is—where he has been.

We sometimes cling to the past at our own peril.  Now I embrace the future, one plane ticket, one prayer at a time.

For the time-being, I’ll be living in a place I used to live with Nina, our house in Cutten.  I’ll be doing a job I used to do.   It’s funny how if you stay on the train long enough, it always comes back to the old station, even when the track has been torn up.

Still, I believe that new life is possible and for me, it is fun to try.  I’m sure it’s frustrating for those who don’t know what to do with me.  But for those who do, life can be exciting.  Or at least different – very different.