The Read

Nov. 21, 2017

Is it just me or do these things happen to everyone? Strange encounters that poke you in the chest and make you take notice. Maybe it’s the new norm, but if that’s the case, how did we get here?

Now that BK is going to be a bonafide Pennsylvania resident, there are administrative Ts that need crossed. He scored a driver's license but the illusive plates will have to wait for a subsequent visit to the tag & title vendor. What would a PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation – even their name takes forever, couldn’t have a nice succinct MVA, DMV?) requirement be without multiple visits to get it accomplished. Took me three times (40 minute drive) to get my license. Don’t ask.

The establishment that set the stage for this particular tale of whoa, a tag and title storefront that does a little bit of everything involving paperwork for the state of PA, has a cartoon poster on the wall of a woman teaching a PennDOT class of counter assistants. She’s yelling, “You don’t have the right paperwork” with the caption instructing them on how to greet their customers. Good ole PA, at least they know how to laugh at themselves. 

Our visit was no different, we didn’t have the right paperwork. Our title still had a bank address on it, even though we paid the car off years ago. After multiple phone calls to secure faxed proof, we were still there an hour later. (It never happened, their fax machine refused to help us.) A lot can happen in an hour. Unlike the bellowing cartoon figure, our clerk couldn’t have been nicer. Young, adorable, and man did she know her job; cared for a cadre of confused customers like a proficient barista at the world’s busiest Starbucks. And she handled it all with a calm that soothed the annoyed, paperwork challenged beasts. 

One woman, the subject of our story, was sent away in need of tax documents. She was a calm and pleasant person too, unlike a few others who popped in and out. While standing at the counter, filling out additional paperwork, she walked up next to me and said she needed to get the documents of ownership on her home changed to her name, her husband had died two weeks earlier. My heart broke for her. We got into a conversation about how endless all the paperwork is with such a loss. At some point in the exchange, told her I was sorry for her loss. What followed was mind-boggling. She said, with utter conviction, “I’m not, he killed himself, I’m mad.” As, no doubt, the need to unload such events is therapy, she proceeded to tell the story. She and her husband got into a fight, he eventually grabbed his gun, pointed it at her and announced he was going to kill her. Conceiving what he figured was a more cruel option, he said, “No, I’m going to kill myself and make you watch.” He then shot himself in the head. What made the story even more poignant was her question when asked for a photo ID, she wanted to know if she could use her permit-to-carry. The photo was so much better than her driver’s license.

As a military brat, I’m not opposed to the 2nd Amendment. My Dad had a full and locked gun case in our basement, most of them were collector pieces, all of them were functional. But they stayed locked in the case, he never felt the need to wield any of them. Realized after he passed, while helping my Mom clean out his stuff, he had a pistol in his nightstand drawer too. We never knew. That gun never made an appearance, it was there for safety only, he understood the fundamental purpose of the 2nd Amendment. Personally, I want nothing to do with them, believe in the adage, live by the gun, die by the gun. Our fresh widow can verify that axiom.

Just wondering how we got here. Not to be puny, but who’s calling the shots? Do our lives dictate politics or does politics dictate our lives. How has gun ownership and the right-to-carry become the battle cry of our country? The statistics of gun homicide rates in the U.S. compared to every other developed country are obscene, more than double the next lowest country. We also hold the distinction of being the world leader in mass shootings, by a long shot. No other country even comes close. We should be ashamed of ourselves. There is no denying it, our political system has been hijacked, and we’ve allowed it to happen. The 2nd Amendment has become a weapon of mass destruction.

Can imagine how the scenario would have changed if our battling widow and her husband didn’t have guns within reach. An argument would have been just that, instead of a funeral and a bitter legacy.

Wonder what our country’s legacy will be, guess it depends on who calls the shots. 

 

 

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Nov. 9, 2017

Been a while. How goes it? From my end, there’s news, but we’ll get to that. Went back through the mound of half-baked columns I’ve started since I last posted and sifted through fillings to see what was ripe enough to serve. Of course, it’s a topic worthy of dessert, (usually eat mine first; hey, life is short,) luscious laughter.        

There are a select few people in my life who can consistently slay me with a well-placed cheeky comment. Words that from anyone else might be questionable but from this comic cohort usually elicit laughter that refuses to be contained, (guilty of a rather gaudy guffaw, try as I may to squelch it, it’s no use.) These jokesters, (BK and AK head the list, there’s an Oxx in there too,) are observers of life who all recognize that God has a sense of humor. They were obviously given marching orders when issued their flesh-suits, make people laugh, it’s good medicine.

So why don’t we do more of it?

Anyone who pays a modicum of attention to the news has little to laugh about, more like do your damnedest to keep from crying. Several columns ago, made the observation that humor had been kidnapped. It’s more than just that, who stole our decency and concern, our understanding?  The inflammatory and divisive rhetoric from the people we depend on to lead our country is in the line-up as one of the culprits. Makes me wonder if they somehow mistakenly believe that peace between the citizens of our nation is a joke. Not funny guys.   

Would like to circulate this in a government memo, a little yeast leavens all the dough, if it’s rotten, you make bad bread. Hoping that biblical bit of culinary wisdom isn’t too hard for them to understand. We all need to write it in our recipe books, remind ourselves to clear out the stuff that spoils everything. It’s not hard to recognize, it doesn’t build, it tears down. It feeds hatred and division. It covers our world with a darkness that leaves us vulnerable to people being gunned down in, of all places, a church.

Speaking of church, went to one recently with BK down in North Carolina that took me by surprise. Well, not the church, the priest. It was a new place for us, we were running short on time and found a spot closer to his apartment than we usually venture. As far as first impressions go, blew that one entirely. Sitting near the alter, waiting to give the homily, was an older priest. Let’s not mince words here, the dude was ancient. Was convinced I saw him drifting off, either that or his pre-speaking contemplation included a deeply drooping head warm-up. My neck hurt looking at him. Figured the next fifteen minutes was going to be a hot mess. Couldn’t have been more wrong. His was the most clear-headed and spot on sermon I've heard in a very long time. And his priceless instruction came packed with, wait for it…drum-roll…a heaping helping of humor.

This patriarchal pastor had us in stitches, in between hitting us over the funny bone with poignant instruction. He was cracking wise about a Sermonetics, (think that’s what he called it,) class he took in seminary. Recounted a criticism session after a particular student's practice sermon. He explained it was basically a class that polished public speakers through the encouragement and criticism of peers; the primary function was to hone mechanics, had nothing to do with content. Until this occasion. The gist of the story was a fundamental difference of opinion about the young seminarian’s substance. The class squared off on sides and a battle of epic proportions ensued. Helpful criticism turned into denigration, defamation, and condemnation. The professor sat quietly taking it all in for a while, then called for an armistice. 

The argument was about who understood the greatest commandment, one side said it was love of God, the other love of neighbor. After forcing the truce, their prudent prof told them they were all clueless, that love had nothing to do with turning on another human being, so viciously, over an opinion. Check me if I’m delusional, but doesn’t that hit close to our unhappy home of the brave? Our country seems hell-bent on bludgeoning each other over our opinions. And, unfortunately, that ignorance isn’t limited to politics, it’s everywhere, our work places, our neighborhoods, even our own families. We’re no less clueless than the young, ill-tempered seminarians.

His profound directive concluded by recounting the famous wedding fave, the Corinthians instruction about Love. He said more than knowing what it is, it was vital to understand what it is not; it isn’t envious or boastful, it doesn’t dishonor others, it’s not easily angered and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. As old as my new favorite priest is, his teacher must be long dead. Too bad, he has my vote. That’s some fruitful yeast.

Ah, the interlude for news, told you we’d get to it. Our long wait to sell the house and be reunited in our new digs in North Carolina has come to an end. A real end, it isn’t happening. The man who makes me laugh everyday will be back in my life fulltime, in PA. We’re not going anywhere. BK got a job back in PA, being separated was killing us; especially me, I’ve grown accustom to a certain quota of laughter and my rations were dangerously low. Especially considering the current state of our country.

That brings me to my conclusion, you have to admit, laughter is luscious. It makes everything sweet. Who can laugh their ass off with someone and still walk away mad? Not likely. We need to put it back on the menu. A steady diet of sour, bitter and angry words is starving us of light, leaving us vulnerable to a darkness that will overtake us. Our individual actions feed us as a whole, expose us to the same, what we give is what we will ultimately get. Time to put some nourishing food on the table. And maybe a little background dinner music, can I suggest, Elvis Costello’s, What’s So Funny Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?        

 

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May. 28, 2017

The image accompanying today’s installment is significant on several fronts.  “Through death to life”, the cycle perpetuates.  The original motto for the addiction treatment center, Father Martin’s Ashley, (after his death they changed it,) sums up a recent week of profundity.

Two weeks ago, on Mother’s Day, the patriarch of our family passed away.   US, (the other half of AK, he’s made several appearances on these pages,) was, in every sense of the word, our patriarch.  An uncle to me, by marriage, he has assumed the role of my father-in-law for a great many years.  A man of significant accomplishment, he was one of the pioneers who brought movies into our homes.  In addition to having a hand in the birth of VCRs and pay-per-view, he knew the power of cable TV before it was even off the ground.  The man was a visionary.  His vita is the stuff of legends.  Chairman, President, CEO, he had many titles.  Although it has always garnered universal respect, his stature in the entertainment industry wasn’t the core of his patriarchy from my view, it was the care he took; for all of us.  His love and generosity made you feel protected, you knew he had your back.  He helped BK and I navigate some of life’s most difficult terrain.  The Ashley logo plays a starring role in that journey.

We had hit bottom, with no place to turn and the insurance well run dry, US stepped in and secured a scholarship for BK to the treatment center, Father Martin’s Ashley.  Nestled on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, rebirth picked us up and set us firmly on our feet.  US opened the door, and to this day, 27 years later we have never been sure if the “scholarship” came from Ashley or from US.  We didn’t ask, he wouldn’t have told us anyway.  It was more than enough for him that we were okay and our fledgling family had a future.  

US was a handsome man, always impeccably dressed, pure class.  A man who only got more distinguished with age.  He quietly commanded attention just by entering a room.  In his pocket was always a clean and pressed hanky; a trademark US accouterment.  I never saw it look used, whenever he pulled it out, it was starched and, like him, immaculate.  On the day of his funeral, his daughter Kathie, a no-nonsense beauty, handed each of us in the family one of his hankies.  It was a clutch move, a practical piece of him we could carry with us, (noticed during the funeral, several of us were putting them to use, mine got a work-out.)  BK kept his in his breast pocket, close to his heart, where he said it belonged.

An interesting piece of family history, (that leads me to the later half of the aforementioned profound week,) as a child, at the tender age of 10, BK became US’s Godfather.  US converted to Catholicism as an adult and he chose his youngest nephew to stand with him.  Even then, he lifted the child he would eventually assume as his own.  That bit of kindness established a bond that lasted a lifetime.  When it came time to choose Godparents for our first child, US and AK were shoe-ins.  The circle was complete.  In more ways than one, we asked them to be Shay’s Godparents while we were all attending an Ashley event. 

Last Sunday, one week after Mother’s Day, having flown back from the west coast the day before, BK and I stood next to an alter with our new Goddaughter, Leighton.  A babe in arms, she already has both of us wrapped around her finger.  (Her parents, Sully and Ashley and her big bro, Cohen, have made appearances here before, couldn’t adore them all more.)  Leighton's baptism was the perfect way to enclose the current circle.

From one loving Godfather to another, it was a comforting sphere.  We arrived at the church early and were ushered to the nursery, where mom and dad were corralling the kids before the service.  Happy to have some private time with them, we walked in to find poor Leighton on the losing end of an allergic reaction.  Her precious little face was swollen on one side, her crystal blue eyes barely slits, and her nose was running like a spigot.  BK put his hand to his heart, there it was, the hanky.  US would not have been happier to share his soft, saving grace with another of his Godfather’s children.  BK pulled out the hanky and gave it to Leighton’s mom, a square piece of cotton from heaven.  Or, at least, from a man who now resides there.   

My love and respect for US knows no bounds, he gave us our life back.  Through death to life, indeed.  The Ashley leaves will always be a favorite of mine.  They remind me that death finds it’s way to life again.  Rebirth is not only possible, but the natural order of things.  Especially when the roots are profound love and generosity.  

Thank you, US, rest in peace.  

 

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May. 1, 2017

Okay, you’ve been following this saga for over two years now, time to bring it to a close.  Not because it’s over, we have not sold our house; as a matter of a fact, it’s off the market again.  No, because I will henceforth write about it no more.  This is the last chapter, (until the postscript that it’s sold and we’re out the door.)  Its purpose has been fulfilled, no matter how long it takes us to get out of here.

The crazy list of problems we’ve encountered, (with a brand new house,) has been long and storied.  As mentioned in the last installment, there can be no other supposition than all of it was meant to be.  The latest setback has confirmed that; nobody could have this many things go wrong with a house without there being a purpose for it all.  After the re-insulation job was finished and the drywall was patched, we only hit the market for a few days when an old problem, (have asked the builder to address it since we moved in,) came back with a vengeance.  Snow melted, rain pounded, and the river ran.  A tributary of water and mud made it’s way across our basement.  There had been a sink-hole in the yard on that corner of the house and water was getting in, the builder told us to put extenders on the downspouts, we did; Band-Aid on a gash.  Volume finally had its way.

After multiple emails with the builder, it was painfully clear, he was refusing to take any responsibility for the invasion.  Oh, that sink-hole, instead of digging it out and re-grading that area when it first happened, he just poured concrete into it.  Now the electric box right above has pulled away from the exterior wall; hmmmm, wonder where the path of that concrete went?

We hired someone to repair the foundation, he thinks there’s a problem with the seam on that corner of the house, excavation is involved.  Those beds I had to put in twice?  Third time’s a charm, as they say.  It all has to come out; that entire side of the house has to be re-graded and a trench built to drain everything to the backyard.  This latest debacle will cost us many thousands of shekels.  Natch. 

One can only conclude, this Bandit Builder, the man who steals hopefulness from his victims, is a life lesson.  There has to be those people in the book of life, right?  The ones who make us see the plot more clearly, show us what’s truly important; decency.  Liken him to a nefarious character from an M. Somerset Maugham novel, delusional in thoughts of his redeeming qualities, but really nothing more than a character of withered character.  The kind of villain who underscores the necessity for honesty; an imperative to always admit mistakes.   

The antagonist in our tale has been all these things for me.  And maybe for some of you too.  A literary jackpot of lessons learned.  He stopped by the other day to blame the electric company for the box pulling away from the wall, he’s going to fix it but a lengthy explanation for why he believes it happened had to be recounted first.   Stood, politely at my front door, listening to the exact same explanation I had already received in an email.  Okay, thanks, will just be glad to have the fire hazard repaired.  Phew, thank goodness that was a short encounter.  Oh no, wait, he rings the bell again and asks me to put on shoes and step outside.   After standing there waiting for him to finish a phone call, he has only beckoned to spew BS.  Had nothing more to say about the sagging electric box, he wanted to explain why the water was getting in the basement and what I could do to stop it, (had already emailed him that we hired a company to repair it.)  Wow, that’s some colossal gall. 

That’s when I knew we’d reached the last chapter.  Lessons learned.  The LaSooze who first moved into this house would have reacted a bit differently, (that’s an understatement.)  Instead, I let him know what was going to be done and reminded him he was not taking responsibility for it so his comments were not necessary, then I took my leave.  A much different narrative was flashing through my head, but I refrained.  As I should have.  Me yelling at him would have done no good, I’m grateful to him for teaching me that lessen.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  I do forgive him.  Mostly, I just feel sorry for him.  When the karma tab he’s accumulating comes due, it’s gonna be ugly.  Guess he’s not much of a literary guy, if he was, he’d know that’s what happens to the bad guys. 

He certainly is a novel character, I’ll give him that.  Like all good literature, wisdom can be found in the words; and the worst among us. 

The end.

 

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Mar. 19, 2017

Just heard it.  Was sitting down to write, went to turn my tunes off and, The Long and Winding Road, comes on.  Marching orders.  Been a while now since I started a column by that very name, as my next in line, but writing shifted to scripts and it kept getting shoved to the back burner. Guess it’s time to dust off the road.  How long has it been?  A while. 

Interesting tidbit, now there will be two in the family.  BK's was first.  (He was a columnist long before I took my first keystroke.)  His, Long and Winding Road, was about my brother Tim, his cancer journey.  An achingly poignant tribute to my brother and my family, on the occasion of Tim’s passing.  BK was a columnist for a newspaper in Ohio at the time, I think that one was called, Meat & Potatoes, (there have been several.)  To this day, some 30 years after, and thousands of columns later, it remains one of my favorites.

Guess it's fitting I would write one with the same title.  BK is the reason I write.  It was his words over the years that inspired me.  In college, he was an editor for the newspaper, the Wright State, Guardian.  Loved listening to him on a typewriter, he used one of those clunky black, oldie-timie jobs at home.   (Don't you love a good visual aid?)   His fingers would fly.  I marveled that anyone could put words together so quickly; and so adeptly.  Lucky are those who have followed his writing over the years, his is a charismatic voice.

My road is the result of the journey we’ve been on since we moved to Mushroomville, (for those who are new here, two years ago we moved to the mushroom capitol of the U.S., Kennett Square, P.A.  For us it has, literally and figuratively, stunk.  Mushrooms pack a pungent punch, as did our builder, but I digress.)  Because I never plugged in here and just continued my connection to Maryland like we’d never moved away, long and winding roads have defined me for the last several years.  Literally.  I shudder to think how many miles LaCiv has had to endure.  More columns have been written on those roads than not.  Dare say I might not be talking to you now if it wasn’t for the roads.  They have taught me so much. 

It’s interesting when you find yourself with hours of reflection that wouldn’t otherwise be there without the solitude of a drive.  Although I thought it was going to be a pain to make that trek back and forth, realized early on, I relished it.  Needed it.  This has been such a weird time for us; so many heavy things to ponder.  From a strangely long list of family challenges, to the insane, publically played out pit that has become politics, there’s been a lot to contemplate.  And on several fronts, some anger to yoke.  

Past installments have painted the not-so-pretty picture of this house we had built.  A sad, who-would-believe-it, tale.  Anger has been in surplus, pretty much throughout the sentence of this build.  Though I’m not proud of it, at one point, let a tad bit out on our builder; expletives were involved.  Not my proudest moment.  But the list had gotten too long and grading our yard with a small garden rototiller, over weeds that were left to grow to tree-size, (chopping them up to little weed seeds,) raking it out by hand, (so every time it rains the yard offers a squish fest,) then spreading seed over that hot mess, put me over the edge.  Didn’t have the strength to keep it in.  Oops, it was time to hit the road.  Anger was not a place I wanted to hang out in anymore.  No one has taught me that more than the man who built our house.  He has been a potent lesson. 

Before I wrap this up and get to the point, (promise, there is one,) there’s some more back-story necessary.  BK got a job offer with a great company in North Carolina; he took it.  We get to leave this troubled house behind.  He’s already there, we moved him into an apartment in early January.  (I know, I’ve been away a long time, sorry.)  I stayed behind to sell the house, we had it on the market for a while, but had to take it off.  It will come as a complete shock, there’s a problem; it’s a doozy.   At the end of the frigid and windy month of Jan., we got an electric bill for $800.  Average for tough winters in our last house, with several hundred more sq ft, $300 to $350.  Unless you live in the Taj Mahal, 800 balloons ain't chump change to heat a house, no matter how you deal it.  Something was wrong.  After weeks of our poor HVAC friend tearing his hair out to find the issue, a light bulb went on.  

His smoking gun, (who knew there was such a thing beyond a good western,) isolated the problem.  The entire back wall of the upstairs three bedrooms has to be re-insulated, along with the seam between the house and the foundation - all the way around.  The substandard work is pumping freezing air in all the outlets and baseboards.  We moved in after the cold weather last year, the first round of brutal cold and wind was the judge and jury.  Video of the gun proved a strong incentive to make the botched job right.  Our builder used the word, "surgery",  indeed, walls need to be cut out.  Drywall mess, re-painting rooms, lost buyers (anyone for $800 a month,) just a little hiccup.  And the worst outcome of the whole thing?  It’s been too cold to turn the heat ON.  As ludicrous as that sounds, we can’t carry $800 bills, we’re paying for two locations now.  Space heaters and the fireplace have taken the edge off for six weeks.  That is, until this past few days, woke up and the house was 42 degrees.  Braved out that day, but eventually had to turn the heat on, couldn’t take it anymore.  (Maybe a crowd-funding campaign?)  I was sick of seeing my breath, indoors.

Okay, enough preface.  All the crap, all the incompetence, and under-handed moves were there for a reason.  The tough twists in the road finally brought me to a clearing.  Can see the big picture now, and it's a relief; the time for anger is no more.  I’ve only fueled the flame of the misfortunes by giving anger credence, whether I spoke it aloud or silently fumed.  The house will be repaired.  As always, it will have cost us money, time and heartache, (not to mention a few frozen toes,) but it will all be resolved.  It is, what it is.  For the past two years, anger has only compounded the situation.  Robbed me of my peace.  I’ve learned the hard way, no amount of frustration, resentment, or anger (justified or not,) will help; no matter what the obstacles along the road ~ bills, builders, or politics.  It only makes the world ugly.    

Take a look, the clearing is beautiful.  Plan on taking in the sights like never before.  God has a plan, and I’m down with it, no matter what.  Today is the two-year anniversary of starting this column.  Will always be obliged to His winding path for giving it life, for the lessons, the growth, and the view up ahead; the road is straight and smooth for as far as the eye can see.   

 

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