The sorry-ass truth

I’m not feigning modesty when I say I’m a fake. That last piece; I didn’t feel that way when I posted it. I felt that way last week, but I only catch rare glimpses at rare moments of wisdom. Mostly, my life of late is pain, ennui, and resentment. Do you want to know what the two biggest things on my mind are right now—aside from my health issues? Number one, I’m wondering how the hell I’m going to keep up with all the bloggers who are following my blog now that there are so many of them. In the past, I followed the blog of every person who followed mine, but I can’t continue doing that. Yet, there is a big part of me that would like even more followers because more followers means more validation.

Number two, I don’t feel that there’s anyone I can really count upon. When I had my surgery, I figured, okay, I’ll be in a sling for six weeks, and unable to use my arm for at least another month. Peggy will be gone eleven days during that time, and she will be at work three days out of seven when she’s home. I therefore need to freeze lots of food, get the house and yard in really good shape, and do everything else that might need doing in the next three months. Due to my providence, I was left with very few things that I needed. Namely, cleaning the house, mowing the yard, and help walking the dogs. I assumed I could count on Peggy for the house and yard, but I figured I would need help with the dogs during the ten days she would be gone and the three days per week that she works. Who would help me? My friends, my Odd Fellow lodge, my Masonic lodge?

Here’s how it has played out. Only four Odd Fellows offered to help, and they are too old and feeble to walk the dogs with me. I’ve heard from two Masons, only one of whom asked what he could do. “You can help me walk the dogs. One of them is blind; I can’t use the shoulder that was operated on at all; my other shoulder hurts so much that I have to walk with my hand in my pocket; I’m afraid they will get tangled up and trip me; plus it would be hard for me to hold them while I pick up poop. I need you to hold one of them and to help with the poop.” “Well,” he said, “maybe the dogs will just have to hangout by the fire until you’re well again.”

So much for the Odd Fellows. So much for the Masons. Luckily, I have other friends.

For instance, my best friend of 22 years, Walt. Haven’t seen him. Not at all. I’ve called numerous times, but, alas, it was never at a convenient time, and he has stopped calling back.

My next best friend of 23 years, Shirley, who lives just around the block. I stopped calling her after the fifth time in a row that she turned me down. When I gave her a birthday gift yesterday, she was all smiles and hugs, but what they meant to her, I cannot say.

My third best friend of 14 years, Jackie. She came over twice, but now she’s busy knitting a sweater on her days off and can’t come at all.

After an appreciable outpouring of support during the week after surgery, I was apparently expected to be back to normal after two weeks at the latest.

So who has helped?

My neighbor, Ellie, and a couple who I hardly knew, Doug and Leslie. Ellie has called, walked the dogs with me, and has twice sent her son to mow the grass when Peggy didn’t have time. Doug and Leslie have literally come every time I called them, made arrangements to help days in advance, and even called to offer their help when they didn’t hear from me. They have brought me gifts, cooked me meals, taken me places, and walked the dogs more times than I can count. Two other new friends have helped some too.

I have heard it said that you don’t know who your friends are until you need them. Yet, I would not be at all surprised but what those people who have utterly failed me are oblivious to how I feel. I’m sure that, in their minds, I had an endless list of friends to call upon, so it really didn’t matter if they turned me down repeatedly. It was as if they said, “I’m really here for you, but just be sure that you only ask me to do those things that I really want to do anyway at the very time that I really want to do them.”

Or maybe they were like the Mason who offered to help but then decided that the kind of help I said Ineeded wasn’t really necessary. Yet, I had thought that walking the dogs with me was a very small thing to ask in terms of actual work (more a social event than a chore), yet a very great thing in terms of what I needed. I had done everything else in advance so as to avoid needless imposition.

My dilemma now is how to treat these people in the future when I no longer need them and, presumably, they will once again find my company desirable. In all honesty, I don’t want to see them, because it seems to me that I mistook spray painted plastic for 24-carat gold. How could I have been so stupid?

Peggy just left for her button convention in Portland. Because she’s a procrastinator, she spent most of the time since her return from Mississippi preparing button trays for a competition that she had known about for the last year. The only real time we've had together was a three hour walk in the woods the day after her return on April 12. Today, she promised to walk the dogs with me before she left, but she later decided she didn’t have time. She also promised to do some dusting, but she ran out of time for that also. I can’t do housework effectively with one hand, but I’m through living as if I were an animal who has no choice but to go hungry until someone decides to fill his bowl.

It is now 1:00 a.m. After I wrote the above, I took the dogs for a walk and cleaned two rooms, my thought being that I can finish the house in four days at that rate. I went to bed at 10:30, but the night has thus far been spent getting up every half hour to take more pills. My left shoulder—the one that didn’t have surgery—has been bothering me all along because it had to take over for my right shoulder, and cleaning house makes it hurt many times worse. Oddly enough, my right shoulder is now hurting even more than the left one. I tried to let it rest in its sling while I worked, but I was constantly running into things that I needed it for, just a little. After an ice bag, an Ambien, two Percocet, two Benadryl, and two Requip, I still can’t sleep. I literally don’t know how I am going to carry on without help.

I think that much can be said in favor of money over friends in times of trouble. If Peggy didn’t oppose it, I would have hired a maid, and that would have at least taken the house off my back, but, alas, she doesn’t want strangers coming around. She said she would clean it herself Sunday, and I know her intentions are good, but I also know that her best intentions often get snowed out. She will come home with scores of new buttons to be organized and carded, so the house could get postponed yet again. I simply can’t count on anything getting done unless I do it. If I re-injure the shoulder that was operated on in the process, I will be very sad indeed, but this waiting for people to help me is just so much degrading bullshit.


I couldn’t tolerate the Demerol (I think it would have killed me), and Vicodin, Percocet, and Norco all stop working long before I can take another dose. To feel such pain five weeks after surgery makes me think something must be wrong. That would mean a second operation on my right shoulder followed by the one on my left shoulder, followed, perhaps, by surgery on my left knee. This is clearly a time to find value in my life apart from what I can accomplish with my body.

This morning, someone asked how I was, and I said fine. Then I remembered that I spent last night—like every night—in a recliner, an ice pack on my shoulder, a toothguard in my mouth, a sleep apnea mask on my face, often awake, the pain like ice picks; and that my shoulders were still afire. I corrected myself, “Actually, I feel like shit, but I guess I’m getting used to it.” I had transcended the pain, at least for a while.

After a year of significant pain, I’ll tell you what I have learned, what the secret is to surviving it with dignity, at least some of the time. The secret is a heart that is open and loving. Anger is a deep and fiery pit. Self-pity is a black and clammy hole. Love is a cloud that floats above pain, and anger, and self-pity. Love even makes the world look different, almost numinous. I was reminded of this when I wrote about Peggy (April 20). I had forgotten how our marriage felt in the early days when the sweetness was almost unbearable. Writing brought it back. I became aglow with love, joy, and poignancy. I didn’t just feel the way I felt 37 years ago; I felt even happier because then there was uncertainty. I had wanted to get married quickly, before Peggy could change her mind.

Now, I don’t worry about losing her love. I worry about her getting sick or dying (fears I didn’t have when we were young), but I’ve grown confident in her love. Like my love for her, other feelings might crowd it out like weeds, but that is only on the surface; the big roots are still very much alive. Well, to be completely honest, I sometimes forget even this. There is a part of me that is ever empty, but that part has grown smaller over the years until it is now like an occasional pothole in a road that is mostly solid.

An ancient truism holds that it’s not the events of our lives that make us happy or unhappy but how we feel about those events. Thanks to chronic pain and disability, I am being forced to accept this at a deep level. Otherwise, I would become overwhelmed. Think of it this way. If chronic pain and disability have the power to make me miserable, then I have no choice but to be miserable. It is only when love makes all things—literally, all things—dance and shimmer before my eyes that I am able to rise above the pain; and even pain itself can appear numinous. When I love, I dance with creation. When I don’t love, I struggle, and as soon I think I have severed one Hydra’s head, five more appear. I can never overcome struggle through struggle. I can never make the world, or even my own body, the way I want it to be.

Early one morning when I was in my early thirties, I watched trees dance in the Louisiana Delta. I had smoked marijuana the night before and seen reptilian monsters in the darkness. They leaped out at me from a glass globe that contained a burning candle. Every time I turned the globe a little to escape one monster, another appeared. I would have walked away, but I was in a country place that was strange to me, and I had nowhere to walk to. The other people in the circle saw that I was struggling, but some I didn’t know, and the others I didn’t trust. They stared at me in silence and uncertainty.

The terror of having been a child who stuttered and who couldn’t pronounce three of the letters in his own name once again settled over me, and I couldn’t form words. I tried to smile, and I tried to raise my hand to wave them away, but I was as rigid as a statue. The dominant person in the group decided to pretend that nothing was amiss, and everyone followed his lead. Everyone that is but my drunken mother who, with cigarette held high, drawled, “Why, boy, I think that stuff has affected your brain.” Everyone laughed, confirming my belief that I was with people I couldn’t trust. Later, I somehow made it to bed where I was flooded by the most beautiful shapes and colors I had ever seen. They moved before my eyes in the darkness all night long like an endlessly changing kaleidoscope.

I got up early, and sat atop the cab of a truck to watch the sun rise beyond a row of ancient live oaks. As these trees awakened with the dawn, they began to pulsate. Their limbs waved gracefully as if to music, and the thought left me that I was a member of a species that was superior to other species. I became absorbed into the whole, life within life, matter within matter, energy within energy. It was among the most memorable experiences of my life. You might dismiss it by pointing out that I was in a suggestible, if not a psychotic, state and that what I saw was simply branches moved by the wind. You are right; I saw branches moved by the wind. But is it not conceivable that being emotionally raw and defenseless might have also made me open to a whole new facet of reality?

But there is only one reality.

Here is the way I see it. If you go to an astronomy website, you will find photos of the heavens that were made with different filters. One filter might show heat and cold. Another might show different kinds of radiation. Yet another might show the colors given off by a particular element. Now, which filter shows reality? I believe I saw truth on that morning long ago, but the truth that I saw was not the truth that I usually see. I was, as it were, looking at the world through a different filter.

Pain, I am learning, is like a drug trip. It can show me monsters if I emotionally resist its reality in my life, but if I relax before it (even though I continue to take practical steps to overcome it), there is the possibility that it might show me worlds of unimagined beauty. It might even take me to a place that surpasses anything I have previously known, a place of pure love and pure compassion, a place in which I can no longer be something, I can only BE.

Buena escritura - Buona scrittura - Bonne inscription - Numinosity

I can’t read good writing out loud and not cry. I try. Sometimes, I survive a few paragraphs—a very few paragraphs—but no more. I am saddened by this because I like to share meaningful passages with Peggy. Sometimes, I can’t even hold it together long enough to tell her what paragraphs I want her to read—paragraphs that I couldn’t possibly read to her. Instead, I point to them. Then when she reads them to me, I cry anyway. It’s all so embarrassing. She’s the woman; she’s supposed to be the one who cries.

And it’s not only sad or poignant words or beautiful descriptions of nature that make me cry; it can even be funny writing. The only requirement is that it be good. No, of course I don’t cry over my lawnmower manual. Yes, I know, technical writing can be good writing too (one would hope that it is) but good in another sense. What I am referring to is writing that is artistically good; writing that is the literary equivalent of a great painting or sculpture. Writing that flings the writer’s soul into the sky like water from a fountain.

I think there must be something strange about how my brain is wired that makes words so beautiful to me. They are beautiful even when alone, but when they are put together so that they soar, they take me with them, and I have no more control than if I were in a rocket ship leaving Cape Canaveral. It could be that the only way to stop the tears would be to kill whatever is inside me that makes words seem so unbearably alive, and I would not want it so. There are worse problems than to be moved by beauty.

The hard part is that my tears make me look weak, out of control. I will own up to the latter, but being exquisitely awake is no weakness. It is a kind of intelligence that few possess, and therefore few understand. I do not say this to boast, for surely you are aware that I never write but what I speak as honestly as I know how. Otherwise, what would be the point?

I judge my life - Part 1 - Making a start

Has it been worthwhile—your life, I mean?

I will answer with a story.

Long ago, I watched a girl eating in the school cafeteria. Everyday, I watched her. She would raise each forkful high, turning it this way and that, savoring the fragrance, watching the steam rise; then, finally, she would take a bite. At 5’11” and 150 pounds, I regarded eating as a nuisance, and I was charmed by her love for her food; that and her gentle face, brown eyes, shy demeanor, and shapely body. The year was 1971, and we were students at Mississippi College.

A few months later, my roommate, Lynn, introduced me to his newest girl, and it was her, Peggy. I asked Lynn if he minded me asking Peggy out, and he said no. Later, to her, he said, “Turn him down.” Maybe she would have dated me anyway.

Three dates later, school was out. While I was getting graduated at Jackson’s Civic Auditorium, Peggy was next door at the Greyhound Station waiting for a bus back to San Antonio. I also left town that afternoon.

I didn’t much care about Canada, but another student lived in the Canadian Rockies, and I was riding home with him just for the hell of it. I anticipated hitchhiking back to Mississippi almost as soon as we got to Edmonton. On our second day out, we stopped in Trinidad, Colorado, former home of Doc Holliday and present home of my half-sister’s husband’s father. Just enough of a connection for a free night’s lodging. When the lime-green Canadian Gremlin left the next morning, I wasn’t in it. I was on my way to San Antonio to surprise Peggy. We had been apart two whole days. My host worried that the Colorado cops would hassle me, so he drove me just over the border into New Mexico. I stepped out of his car at 7:00 a.m., and figured I would call Peggy if I made it to San Antonio before midnight. Otherwise, I would sleep on the ground.

I called at 11:55. Her father answered. He had been asleep. He didn’t know who the hell I was, so I figured it would be a bad time to tell him that I had come to marry his daughter. My last ride had been with an encyclopedia salesman, and when Peggy and her father pulled into the truck stop, the salesman was dutifully trying to sell me a set of encyclopedias, using his car hood as a table on which to display his wares.

Peggy’s parents moved her 13-year-old sister into another room, and gave me her bed. Pam woke up the next morning, and wondered why she wasn’t in her own bed. When she found me there, she screamed. I nearly screamed too. After Peggy accepted my proposal, I said I would ask her father for her hand. No way, Peggy said. She didn’t want to spring it on him until I was long gone.

We were married on December 19, four months after we met. I wanted to do it sooner, but weddings take time, or so I was told. Father Hale—that would be Episcopal Father Hale—warned us that he had never performed a wedding during Advent that lasted.

Did you ever have any qualms about marrying so quickly?

Only once. Peggy and I went out to eat one Sunday, and she asked me what I thought she should order. I suggested a t-bone. This was my idea of joke because we had just been trying to convince ourselves that we had enough money to get married. Peggy ordered a t-bone. Worse yet, she didn’t eat it all. I naturally concluded that the woman was a spendthrift and that our life together would be an endless cycle of deepening debt and bankruptcy. We had a big fight, maybe our first. Peggy said that she hadn’t even wanted a t-bone, but had gotten one to please me.

Our honeymoon meal was at a “family restaurant.” Our honeymoon destination was the 8’ by 35’ hardly heated trailer that we had rented near Mississippi College where Peggy was still a student. The bedroom was all bed, and the only way we could be in the bathroom at the same time was if one of us was in the tub, but mostly it was the cold that drove us out. After a few months, we moved into an upstairs’ apartment in what had once been a large house. We had already added a stray kitten to our family.

We lived cheaply. Fortunately, we shared a talent for it—Peggy having proven to be anything but a spendthrift. I immediately showed myself unable to hold a job. Between the summer of 1971 and the summer of 1973, I worked first as a funeral director/ambulance driver at Adkin’s Funeral Home, then as a schoolteacher for Hinds County Public Schools, then as a sporting good’s salesman at Miller’s Discount, then as a funeral director at Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home, and finally as a respiratory therapy technician at University Medical Center. My biggest employment challenge was that I feared and hated anyone who gave me orders or had power over me. I considered myself too good for every job I ever had.

Meanwhile, Peggy was finishing up her degree in secondary education while working at Gibb’s Pizza Parlor. She had no trouble holding a job. The other girls at the pizza parlor were black, and they called Peggy princess. It was meant as a compliment.

How did your parents feel about Peggy?

My parents loved Peggy. My mother loved Peggy more than she loved me, and my father loved Peggy equally as well. Anyone who is with Peggy for five minutes would have to be a moron to not notice that here is a woman who is honest, gentle, intelligent, loyal, and modest. If you were in a crowd of strangers and found it necessary to ask one of them to hold onto your life’s savings while you went someplace, you would just naturally choose Peggy. Unlike me, she completely lacks treachery. I’ve never known a better person.

Ms Magazine appeared in January1972, two months after we were married. I subscribed to it in Peggy’s name because I got it into my head that she needed to be liberated. Women libbers seemed sexy to me, maybe because their goal was to make women think; and intelligent, thinking women drove me crazy, libidinally speaking. I made a point of keeping Ms in the bathroom because that’s where I did much of my reading, and where I assumed that Peggy would learn to do much of her reading. Funny that I failed to take it in that Peggy NEVER, EVER read in the bathroom. I attributed this failure to an insufficient variety of reading materials. After 37 years of supplying her with books and magazines, Peggy still doesn’t read in the bathroom. I am beginning to worry that there’s something wrong with her, and that our marriage was a mistake.

In any event, Peggy had zero interest in women’s lib in general or Ms Magazine in particular. What Peggy did have an interest in was good milk, and I had been making her drink powdered milk because it was a lot cheaper. I told her she would get used to powdered milk. She persevered for months. Then one day she came home with a jug of real milk and powdered milk hasn’t passed her lips since. This senseless rebellion wasn’t what I had in mind when I set out to liberate her.

In 1973, I joined the Air Force, and was sent off for training in San Antonio. Peggy’s parents were still in San Antonio where Peggy’s father, Earl, was a Lt. Col at Randolph. The plan was for Peggy to live with her parents while I was in boot camp.

Why did you join the Air Force?

Because I lacked direction. I had a B.S. in education (K-8) but no desire to teach.

Why did you get a degree in something you weren’t interested in?

After my third year in college, I decided I needed a major that I could complete during my fourth year (I don’t remember why), and education was the only thing that fit the bill. I did, as I mentioned, try teaching during the fall before Peggy and I were married, but I felt like a misfit at the elementary school that hired me because every student and every teacher but myself was black. More importantly, I had contracted hepatitis (probably from the girl to whom I gave my virginity two months before I met Peggy), and was feverish, lethargic, and dropped from 150 pounds to 125. I finally walked off the job. The superintendent threatened to sue me, but I had purposely neglected to sign my contract. Promising that I would be in certain spot at a certain time on a certain day months in advance seemed like a jail sentence to me.

Earl said he liked the Air Force, and I liked—and wanted to please—Earl. Since he was a weatherman, I decided that I should be a weatherman too. I mean, what’s not to like about fluffy white clouds and rainbows? Peggy and I drove to San Antonio a week before I was supposed to report to Lackland for basic, so we took a few days for a proper honeymoon in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. We still have a painting on velvet of the desert by moonlight. Years after we bought it, Peggy said it was tacky, and that we should get rid of it. Not likely. It reminds me of our honeymoon, and that makes it holy.

I lasted 17 days at Lackland. The sergeants yelled at me and hurt my feelings, and they did all kinds of other obnoxious things like waking us up before dawn each day by beating garbage can lids together. At 23, I was the oldest recruit among the 70 in my “flight” and the only one with a college education. I felt like a misfit and a failure just by being there instead of at Officer’s Candidate School where everyone else with my qualifications had apparently gone. I concluded that the Air Force was like all the other jobs I ever had only worse. I also spent a lot of time worrying that I couldn’t run the mile fast enough to avoid having to go through boot camp a second time. I was a good runner, so there was no reason for my fear, yet it was a big fear. I have always been a person who blossoms before praise and wilts under criticism, and the whole premise of boot camp is that you remold ordinary people into warriors by tearing down who they used to be.

The Vietnam War was winding down, and the Air Force apparently decided that it had too many people, so one day they took about half of my unit to a building where second lieutenants called us in one at a time and asked us a lot of questions. I didn’t realize until later that they were looking for an excuse to get rid of us, but it wouldn’t have mattered. One of the questions was whether I had ever smoked marijuana. I said I had. The next question was how many times I had smoked it. I think I said three, which was about right. I was to smoke it a lot more in coming years.

The next day, a few of us were called away from our unit, and put together with a lot of other guys. Then we were all lined up and contemptuously ordered to leave our last names on our uniforms (they had been sewn on) but to tear off the U.S. Air Force insignia. It was like a court martial scene from an old cavalry movie except that we weren’t sent through the gates of the fort to wander the desert. Also, we weren’t all being dishonorably discharged. My discharge was what was called a “general discharge.” It’s considered honorable, but not too honorable—just a little honorable, I guess you could say. The expulsion process took a week during which we were housed in some old barracks at the edge of the base. My roommate said he was being discharged for attacking his drill instructor. He looked crazier than shit to me, and I tried to stay clear of him.

We rejects had to stay on the base, but we could move around a good bit—Lackland is the biggest military base in the world, probably bigger than a lot of countries—and nothing was expected of us. We could also have visitors. Peggy and her parents came to see me and, by so doing, to witness my disgrace. That was hard for me, and no doubt hard for Earl and Doris, although they never said anything. My relationship with them was pretty much bereft of either praise or criticism. Peggy didn’t say much either. It was a time to look ahead rather than behind.

I wish I could do those years over. I took trivial things too seriously, and that kept me from taking the rest of my life seriously enough. Like a dog, I only saw what was in front of my face. But I’ll tell you something that I often ponder. Let’s say that I had been able to use my abilities to the fullest. That would have set me on a whole other path, and who knows where that path would have led? Because I can’t see where other choices would have taken me, I can’t know that they would have been for the best. I do know that a person’s smallest act can dramatically alter the rest of his life.

After all these years, I am still alive, and I still have Peggy to hold and to love. My life has been worthwhile.

Growing up with booze, guns, and fast cars

All I can say in defense of what I’m about to share is to give you my word that it is the truth as I remember it. You might reply, “Friend, why should your word mean jack to me?”

If you were to say that, I would have to concede, friend, that you had a good point—a brusquely made good point, but a good point nonetheless. After all, I could really be a sixteen-year-old girl from Denmark for all you know. I would just request that you read what I’ve written, and when you are done, ask yourself what the odds are that anyone, much less a Scandinavian teenager, could have made it up. Now, it is my very great pleasure to recount history as I lived it.

Mississippi repealed Prohibition in 1966, making it the last state to do so. This created a grievous obstacle for underage drinkers because bootleggers hadn’t cared who they sold to. I should pause here and clarify what I mean by bootlegger. I’m not referring to men who made whiskey, because I never knew any of those. I’m referring to men who drove the forty miles from my town in Baptist controlled Mississippi to Catholic controlled Louisiana, bought liquor legally, and then returned it to Mississippi and sold it illegally.

I knew of two white bootleggers—I was largely ignorant of the black ones—in my town of 12,000, but you could have picked them out easily even if you were a newcomer. Bootleggers were invariably on the edge of town, and had high wooden fences across the front of their property. A bootlegger’s fence would be interrupted by a one-way driveway that entered on one side, circled around to the back of the building, and exited on the other side. The customer would park abreast of the back door, and someone would come out and take his order. I even knew a kid who bought booze on his bicycle. Whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, tequila, you name it as long as it was hard liquor and in a bottle (I preferred gin). As you might expect, service was more prompt than friendly since no bootlegger wanted a line of cars backed out into the street.

I never heard of a white bootlegger being raided by the law, although I suppose the prospect of a raid by the Feds must have ever hung over them (pun welcomed though unintended). The local sheriff raided the black ones from time to time, presumably because they didn’t pay him enough not to. I wouldn’t be surprised but what in this, as in most things, racism prevailed, and the sheriff demanded more money from the blacks. The sheriffs in Brookhaven Mississippi during the 1960s were so lax that I even bought my illegal fireworks—cherry bombs and M-80s—from one of them (he stored them in his garage). I would then drive the strip, and sell them from my car to other teenagers.

You must remember that all this happened in a Baptist controlled area and that Baptists are—in theory—teetotalers. I should think that one or two law-and-order sermons from the pulpit at First Baptist would have gone far toward making it impossible for everyone to ignore the elephant of iniquity that stood astride the refreshment table of righteousness at Baptist coffee klatches, but none was ever offered. The silence on the part of the Baptists—all of the Baptists—was, as the saying goes, deafening. But then my own church, the Church of Christ, was equally silent. We were taught that the church should stay clear of such affairs, which just happened to be the safest position because it was the position favored by a great many potentially dangerous people. Lucky us.

Drunkenness was as open as booze with a good part of the teenage population driving wasted on weekend nights. Such things simply were not taken seriously back then. I was so drunk on one occasion that I would have driven off down the railroad tracks in my two-tone ‘56 Fairlane (312 cu inch, 98 mph in the quarter-mile) one night if some friends hadn’t alerted me to my error and gotten me back onto the road. Other times, I woke up at home and found my car full of puke and bottles, but with no memory of who I had been with or what we had done. If you had asked me if drunk driving was a bad idea, I might have said that it was, but I don’t remember ever worrying about getting hurt. I didn’t worry about a ticket either because I had been stopped several times and had only gotten one ticket ($17 for reckless driving). Most cops went out of their way to be protective of errant teenagers, white teenagers anyway. I can’t speak for the black ones.

My parents were no threat either. If I had actually wrecked my car, my father would have been terribly distressed, but only because of the financial loss—assuming that I hadn’t been hurt too bad. My parents considered themselves good parents because they provided for my sister and me financially, and they never made us do a lick of work. I guess the truth of the matter was that, beyond material comforts, they simply didn’t think they had anything worth giving. Being poor, they worked long hours just to buy us things.

You might think, given my laissez-faire attitude toward highway safety, that serious accidents were somehow rare, but quite the reverse was true with multiple fatalities being a common occurrence. Brookhaven was at the intersection of two major highways. U.S. 51 ran from below New Orleans all the way to Canada, and U.S. 84 from Savannah to San Diego. They were narrow, curvy, hilly, two-lane, and had little right-of-way. U.S. 84 was the winner for wrecks at the same spot because, just before it entered town, there was a sharp curve directly at the top of a steep hill. It was one of those hills that made you to feel like you were on a roller coaster when you got to the top. If you crested that hill from the west without knowing about the curve, you had to be really alert, and preferably below legal speed, to avoid flying across the other lane and running off the road—and that’s if you were lucky and nothing was coming. Much of the time, something was coming. If a highway engineer had deliberately set out to kill people, he could have scarcely done better.

The fifteen-year-old driving age combined with the easy liquor, bad highways, a 65-mph speed limit, and heavy, high-powered cars with no safety features didn’t help matters. I was in two wrecks in one night with my friend, Penny, driving. First, we ran off a dead-end road into a mud bank; next we slid backwards into a dentist’s office; and then he went on alone and flipped his car, crushing himself beneath it.

Dead teenagers were honored with big photos and gushy sentiments at the front of the school yearbook, and then everything went on as before with no lessons learned. People just seemed to accept that this was how life was. Not that they tried to hide death. If anything, they celebrated it by towing the grisliest wrecks to the center of town and leaving them there for days so everyone would have a chance to drive by. For many of us, driving by wasn’t enough. We would crowd around the cars with flashlights—this being primarily a nighttime entertainment—sniffing the blood and craning to see the guts.

I could scarcely get enough of guts, so I became an ambulance attendant at 14, and went to work at one of two local funeral homes at 18. I would often drive an ambulance and a hearse on the same day because funeral homes commonly ran ambulances too. Few of us even had a rudimentary knowledge of first aid. Because autopsies were done at the funeral home, I got to see one my first day. I had seen butchered animals, and that was what an autopsy looked like. To see that a fat man—and he had been fat—looked no better than a slaughtered hog when his parts were all laid out, lowered my estimation of what is called “human dignity.” At one level, we are just meat, and that was pretty much the level I was focused upon.

Seeing death never gave me the least notion that it might be my car that was towed into town and my picture in the front of the yearbook. The first word I ever spoke was car, and I thought I was simply too good a driver to die. I came close occasionally, although I never realized it at the time. One icy morning, I picked an acquaintance up on my way to school when I saw him waiting for his bus. We were going fifty (double the limit) down narrow North Jackson St. when another school bus turned onto the street a block away. My Ford spun around backwards on the slippery asphalt, and would have slid into the bus had my rear wheel not fallen into a street drain, knocking the cast iron cover into the air. My passenger was pale and speechless; Ray Laird, the bus driver, was pale and speechless; but since my car was undamaged except for the loss of a hubcap, I took off as if nothing much had happened, which was how it seemed to me. The acquaintance wouldn’t ride with me again, but that was his loss as I saw it. I never took him to have much in the way of guts anyway. As I look back on all that, I can but wish I had lived better, and I can but be glad that I lived at all.

But I also feel nostalgic about that era because it was a little like pioneer times. Despite Mississippi’s reputation for oppression, any white person who didn’t moon the mayor, marry a “nigger,” or call Jesus a faggot, was free to do pretty much as he pleased. Taxes were low, cops were mellow, building codes were ignored, fenced yards were the exception, people carried guns if they wanted yet killings were almost unheard of (at least among whites), and even dogs came and went as they thought proper (which meant that there were a lot of dead dogs lying about).

Here’s how wide open things were. When I was ten, my family moved to 133 East Chippewa, which was two blocks from the courthouse/jail/sheriff’s office and six blocks from the police station. I had hunted, by myself, with both a .22 rifle and a .410 shotgun since age eight, and I saw no reason to give it up, especially now that I was living in what appeared to be a squirrels’ paradise. I would blast squirrels out of the tall water oaks that grew in my front yard, and my girlfriend’s grandma would cook them for me, yet no one ever complained, and no cops ever came racing around the corner.

I also carried a .22 H&R revolver to school in my car everyday and left it under the seat with the doors unlocked. Yet, even with guns readily available, I daresay that no one ever thought of shooting another student. Such things simply were not done—they were literally unthinkable. You had to be one hardcore badass to run afoul of the powers that ruled, at least if you were white. Compared to the freedoms that I grew up taking for granted, the liberal city where I now live is like East Germany before the wall came down; I feel constantly oppressed. It’s as if the self-righteous bastards are forever watching me, forever looking for an excuse to interfere with my life.

I’ll offer another example of the freedom with which I was raised. I was more than thirty years old before I ever saw the first person pick up dog shit. Maybe some did—maybe a lot did—but I never saw them, and no one in my family ever did, although we always had one or more dogs. When I did see a person pick up dog shit for the first time, it was my dog’s shit. I was visiting a commune near Summertown, Tennessee, called “The Farm.” The Farm had 1,400 residents in the early ‘80s, and all the many visitors stayed together. So, there we were, ten or more of us, sitting in the shade shooting the breeze, when my little dog Wendy relieved herself right in the middle of our happy little group, as dogs are wont to do. After five minutes, a woman scooped up Wendy’s shit, and put it in the trash while I sat wondering whatever had possessed her to do such a thing.

I know that must sound strange, but a tolerance for dog shit was like a tolerance for all of the other bizarre things that I grew up with; if it’s all you’ve ever known, it seems normal. When I’m tempted to judge people who have different customs, I try to remember this. I often miss the South, or at least the freedom I once had there. God bless Dixie.

Old men and their whopping Bibles

“Your grandpa was one man who loved his Bible,” people often told me. It was high praise in the rural and religious Mississippi of the ‘50s and ‘60s. For an old man, the highest. Anything more would have been redundant because to love the Bible was to love the source of all virtue.

Grandpa was a Church of Christ preacher, and so was his father. My father set out to be a preacher too but mental illness caused him to lose his way. As he drew nearer to death, he clung to God ferociously, and God spoke to him in bed each night. Mostly, God gave my father messages (blistering criticisms really) that he was to deliver to whatever church he was attending (you can imagine how popular this made him). God also told him that he was going to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and would appear with Ed Mahon on “The Tonight Show” to claim his prize. Unfortunately, God kept changing the date until, wouldn’t you know it, Dad died. When I asked him how he felt about God putting him off all the time, Dad said that God was testing his faith.

So do God’s children ever excuse his failures. No matter how screwed-up a situation gets, depend upon it, the one being who has all the power in the universe to make things right yet fails to do so will get a pass. Then if a mere human being comes along centuries later and fixes things—as with polio—God will get the credit. God will even get the credit if 499 people burn to death in a plane crash and one escapes with third degree burns. I wish people would cut me that much slack.

But back to Grandpa. The image of a stooped old man—the wisdom of eight decades lighting his face—sitting in his rocker with a leather bound King James Bible across his lap is, for me, like a Norman Rockwell version of the Buddha. Kind of.

I’ve been reading the Bible during my convalescence. I like “The Living Bible” version; Grandpa wouldn’t have read anything but the King James. Why? Probably because it is way old (1611) and uses an outmoded form of English. The yeas and nays, the thees and thous, the concupiscences and the fornications sound more like a special God language than, for example, Valley Girl talk.

My father left school in the eighth grade, and my Grandpa and Great Grandpa sooner than that. I’ve had twenty years of formal education, and I still find King James English daunting. I picture these old and uneducated men—my forbearers—sitting in their rockers, reading their big old Bibles, and I wonder what it all meant to them. They knew their preaching points (weekly communion, baptism by immersion, the infallibility of the Scriptures, no organs or pianos in church, certainly no loquacious women in church, and eternal hellfire for everyone who didn’t join our happy little sect); and they no doubt understood many things about the stories of Ruth, Moses, Jonah, King David, and so on, but what else did they see, and what did they think of it? I randomly opened my Bible last night (to Deuteronomy as it turned out) and found the following without turning the page.

“If a man rapes a girl…he must pay a fine to the girls’ father and marry her; he may never divorce her.

“If a man’s testicles are crushed, or his penis cut off, he shall not enter the sanctuary [place of worship].

“A bastard may not enter the sanctuary, nor any of his descendants for ten generations.

“Any man [soldier] who becomes ceremonially defiled because of an seminal emission during the night must leave the camp…

“If two men are fighting and the wife of one intervenes to help her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, her hand shall be cut off without pity.”

The next time someone argues that the Constitution of the United States was based upon Judeo-Christian values, ask him if he means these. He might even be able to find the part of the Constitution that says women who give birth to girls are “unclean” for twice as long as women who give birth to boys. If he does, pass the information along, will you?

John is an old man in one of my Sunday school classes. He could pass for a retired GQ model with his moustache and three-piece suits. John is ignorant of scholarly analysis of the Bible, but he knows the Bible itself so well that he can recite much of the New Testament, and is eager for any excuse to do so. He led class a few weeks ago. His intent was to lecture from his vast store of wisdom and knowledge without interruption, but I interrupted him anyway. We were on one of those passages that most Sunday school teachers avoid at all costs because it makes God look way, way bad. Specifically, it contains God’s orders to the Jews about how they were to treat the previous inhabitants of the Holy Land: “Do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy the Lord your God has commanded you...” (including domestic animals).

“John,” I asked, “how do you reconcile this passage with your belief in a God who is just and benevolent?” John didn’t hesitate, “You have to assume that those people deserved to die.”

I didn’t ask him why, then, God allowed the Jewish soldiers to “keep the little girls” for themselves following other raids. How could it be that it was only the girl children (all of them!) who deserved to be raped and enslaved? How about the married women or the old men in three-piece togas—didn’t any of them deserve to be raped? For me to have pushed John that hard would have been completely impolitic yet, as I see it, completely fair. But alas, even in my usually liberal class, we are expected to cut people more slack when they say moronic things in the name of God than when they take responsibility for their words. The watchword is respect. Respect for what, exactly, I don’t know, and, to be honest about it, I shudder to think. Even as I sit writing, people are being murdered because religious people think God wants them murdered, so we’re not just talking ancient history here. Picture him, John, the apparent symbol of decency, courtesy, kindness, wisdom, rectitude, gentleness, and propriety; John, saying that nursing babies and family pets deserved to be impaled on Israeli swords.

So what? What harm is there in people believing that God is a bloodthirsty monster? Well, they do seem to follow his lead. The Dutch in Africa, the U.S. in North America, the Spanish in South America, the Russians in Alaska, and the British on every continent of the world save one, were all Christians who used the God-ordained atrocities of the Bible to justify their own atrocities. They even claimed to be doing the peoples they raided a good deed because telling them about Jesus completely out-weighed such inconveniences as slavery and death—I’m serious. And how about today? Would the United States be conducting what George Bush called a “crusade” in the Middle East if George Bush hadn’t regarded himself as an appointee of God? I will just offer that men are seldom THAT stupid without guidance from above.

The most notable thing about evil is that, in it’s worse form, it looks very different from what I expected as a young man. The Charles Mansons with their swastika tattoos, insane eyes, and wild hair can’t do nearly as much harm as the men with the pressed suits and the fresh haircuts, because the Charles Mansons can’t win our trust. People like John can. We give them a pass based upon how well they dress and how gentlemanly they behave—unless, of course, they’re trying to excuse rape, and even then we might smile benignly if the rape occurred in the name of God.

My grandfathers would have answered me as John did. Either that or they would have said, “There are some things in the Bible that we are not yet allowed to understand, but we must have faith that the day will come when God will reveal them to us.” Either way, the bottom-line is that murder and rape are okay if God says it’s okay because God created morality, and God is free to ignore morality. I say to my grandfathers, “Shame on you. Shame on you a thousand fold for bowing before such a fiend. I moon your Jehovah. Verily, I would do worse than that if he were beneath my bottom rather than above my head.”

If you were to be marooned upon that proverbial desert island, what one book would you take? I would take the Bible. It’s long; it contains a lot of interesting stories; a good bit of poetry; some history; some wisdom; and it spans many cultures and centuries. I can’t say that I love the Bible, but I sure do like it a lot—I just wish that people didn’t take it so seriously.

The Bible is both a book and a symbol. When I hold one in my hand, I think of how much it has meant to so many over the past 2,800 years or so since it was started, and it’s as if the book itself hums with power. The only other symbol I own that is even nearly so powerful is a Nazi flag. How many millions of years would I have to live before I got through every story of every person whose lives were destroyed because of other people’s allegiance to these two things?

“There is no comparison, you object, “The Nazi’s did nothing but evil, whereas Christianity has done some bad things but a lot more good things.” This is not a point that I will concede as self-evident. So, tell me, please, exactly how much good has Christianity done—in proportion to the evil? Twice as much? Half as much? A thousand times as much? Why it has never taken a breath from evil during its 2,000-year existence, compared to which the Third Reich only lasted twelve years. And even if Christianity has done more good than evil, the ground is no less full of corpses that were put there in the name of Christ, and no amount of doing good can offset that. Only the victims of Christianity can forgive Christianity, and they are mostly dead.

“Ah, you say, but most of the evil you’ve mentioned was in the Old Testament. God later cleaned up his act.” Did he really?

“I came not to bring peace but a sword…

…whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one…

If anyone…does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children…he cannot be My disciple.”

Jesus won disciples by threatening people with eternal torment. He cursed a fig tree for having no fruit out of season. He continually made sweeping generalizations about whole groups of people calling them fools, snakes, vipers, children of hell, whitewashed tombs. He called non-Jews dogs. He considered belief without evidence a virtue. He said he spoke in parables so that only the chosen could understand and be saved, but then he threw duck fits when the chosen didn’t understand him either.

You’ve got the sweet Jesus that liberal churches prefer, and you’ve got the hell-fire Jesus of the fundamentalists, and the latter is more true to the text. Sure, you can pull all kinds of lovely sayings out of your red-letter New Testament, but you can find just as many hateful ones. The man was a walking contradiction, which means that he was like a lot of us.

If I had a group of followers (well, I do actually, but they’re not that kind of followers), and they decided to take everything I ever said and build an infallible religion out of it, they would get something as screwy as Christianity because they would be forever contorting my statements into incomprehensibility in order to prove that I was wise, peaceful, loving, and consistent. They might say that I was speaking metaphorically when I said something cruel; or that I was exaggerating to make a point; or that I spoke differently then than I would today because my audience was different; or that some of what I supposedly said was added to the Bible later by people with private agendas. The question is, why would they want to? I would argue that people are so psychologically desperate to believe in an infallible protector that they are willing to invent one, no matter how pitifully transparent the attempt.

If this ancient and global structure that we call Christianity were not already in place with its cathedrals, universities, hospitals, monasteries, state churches, and solemn processions; if the Bible was discovered for the first time today in some old crock jar in Palestine, how many people would read it and become Christians? When millions of people over two thousands of years take something seriously, the assumption is that it must be worth taking seriously. I can but say that I haven’t found a basis for this assumption, and I can but offer that belief should rest upon something more substantial than how many other people buy into something.


I thought that it might cheer me to read about people who were worse off than myself, so one of the books I added to my pre-surgical hoard was by a man who was badly injured in a car wreck. I didn’t initially notice that the author was a Southern Baptist preacher, and when I did notice, it practically soured me on the book because I hate Southern Baptists. I don’t mean that I hate everyone who is a Southern Baptist (Peggy grew up Southern Baptist, for heaven’s sakes) but that I hate the Southern Baptist institution and anyone who officially represents it.

Being a Southern Baptist in Mississippi is about as original as having brown hair. Growing up—as I did—in the Church of Christ meant something, but I never could see that growing up Baptist meant anything. It was supposed to be a religion, but Baptist kids didn't seem religious. They didn’t talk about their church; they knew little about the Bible; they didn’t make an effort to hangout with other kids who were Baptist. My assumption was that the Baptist religion was utterly boring and utterly irrelevant to anything in the real world.

As an adolescent, I was so into religion that I literally visited every denomination I could find, yet I didn’t set foot inside a Baptist Church until I married Peggy and attended with her parents a few times. Those visits confirmed my low opinion of the Baptist faith. On the surface, it was much like the Church of Christ, the biggest difference being that the Church of Christ didn’t have instrumental music; but at a deeper level, it seemed as if no one wanted to be there. They didn’t smile; they weren’t friendly. It was as if they were performing a strange kind of penance, the terms of which forbade their religion from ever containing the least thing of the least beauty to the least person for the least amount of time.

None of this made me hate Baptists. It just kept me from taking them seriously. I did observe however that Peggy’s parents and Peggy’s older sister and her family were really into the Baptist Church. The core of their faith, as near as I could understand it, was that rule number one was that you tithe, and rules number two and three were the same as rule number one. The Church of Christ stayed quiet on the subject of tithing, so this was the second obvious difference that I observed, and it made me damn glad that I hadn't grown up Baptist because my family was poor enough already.

From time to time, I talked with Peggy’s father and her sister about tithing. Her father said that you only had to do it with the money that was left over after taxes, and that you could spend the rest of your income as you pleased. I thought this sounded like the kind of Pharisaical legalism that Jesus hated, but I didn’t say anything. The sister added to my knowledge considerably by pointing to a verse in the Bible that says that however much you give to God that God will give a lot more back to you. The sister made no bones about it, she wanted to be rich, and she believed that if her family did right by God, that God would do right by her family by making them all wealthy.

Well, this was interesting. At least, it explained why all those poor Baptists kept pouring money into the coffers of preachers who could afford a lot of things that the rank and file could not. I guess it was easier for them to stomach the preacher driving a Cadillac if they believed that God had scheduled their own Cadillacs for future delivery.

Being a man who wasn’t apt to put $10 into a church plate much less 10%, I had to give Peggy’s family credit for acting on their faith. That said, some things bothered me; they bothered me a lot. For one thing, Peggy’s family was materialistic to a degree that I had never encountered in my personal relationships. I kept wondering where they would find space for even one more gee-gaw, but they always did. There were other things too. For example, Peggy’s sister’s cats kept having kittens all over the place because, as Peggy’s sister said, she couldn’t afford to have them neutered. Yet, she could afford to put hundreds of dollars a month into the church plate. I concluded from this and other questionable behaviors that maybe tithing was a little too important to Baptists. Maybe the preachers had drilled it into them to the point that they figured it was pretty much all they had to do to please God, God being more or less like an investment banker.

Last summer, Peggy’s mother’s preacher flaked out on preaching her funeral. He didn’t have a good reason, and he didn’t even bother to tell Peggy’s father. Instead, he had his wife call Peggy’s aunt the day before the funeral and ask her to pass the word along. A Disciple of Christ minister who didn’t know Peggy’s mother ended up preaching the funeral. I returned home livid. I got the names of everyone on every rung in the ladder of the Southern Baptist hierarchy, and I wrote to all of them. That was last August, and I’m still waiting to hear back. Do you think I don’t hate the Baptist Church? I’m sixty years old, and I grew up surrounded by its warehouse-like buildings with the teeny-tiny steeples that looked like so many puny pricks, yet I can’t think of one good thing to say about it. Even shit goes to the trouble to stink; the Baptist Church just lies there odorless, awaiting delivery of its Cadillacs.

How to put together a plan of action when you can't get out of your chair

Vicodin and Percocet make me itch, so I asked surgeon Mark for something else. He prescribed Norco, but the druggist objected that Norco is the same thing as Vicodin only stronger. I next got a prescription for Demerol.

Because I’m a practical man and because I had a bottle of Percocet left over from the second of my three surgeries last year, I decided that, if I could survive the itching, I’d finish off the Percocet before I started on the Demerol. To accomplish this noble ambition, I take a Benadryl every time I take a Percocet, and this has gotten me by passably well. My scalp about drives me crazy, but at least I’ve avoided the total body itching. I was curious about the Demerol though, so I took some at church last week. I thought I was handling it tolerably well until I came home and nearly fainted on the pot. I still don’t know what that was about.

Yesterday, I needed a nap, but I was hurting too bad to sleep, so I took some more Demerol before I sat in my recliner (the pain is much worse now than it was last week, which means that it is way too intense to even think about sleeping in bed). Well, I didn’t go to sleep, and I didn’t go to sleep, and I didn’t go to sleep, so I eventually found it necessary to advise myself as follows: “Snowbrush, my handsome and charming young man, you’re obviously not going to sleep, so I would advise you to get up and make yourself useful.”

I immediately saw the wisdom in this excellent counsel, so I ordered my body to lean forward and stand in the same punctilious way it has always done, but it declined my command without so much as a, “Thank you, but no.” I kept resolving to get up, and my body kept ignoring me, and each time this happened, the prospect of getting up anytime in the foreseeable future appeared a little more fantastic until it seemed about as feasible as flying out the door and laying an egg on the roof.

I finally said to myself, “Well, I can go one of two ways. One way would be to freak-out. If I freak, I’ll probably start thrashing around (if I can even do that) until such time as I fall on my face and possibly rip my tendon in two. The second way would be to lower my ambition to that of simply enjoying my drug trip until such time as Conductor Demerol puts me off his train.” Being a child of the ‘60s and having seen from inside my head what a bad trip looks like, I naturally chose option number two. Only there wasn’t much to enjoy since the trip was neither especially bad nor especially good. It was just….well, it was what it was, which was basically sitting shit-faced in a chair for three hours.

I kept trying to at least think different thoughts (so as to not totally waste my time), but I found that I stayed stuck in the same groove. I can best compare the feeling to an intellectual “Ground Hog Day,” that being a movie about a day that repeats endlessly, only nobody realizes it except for one person. In this case, I was that person, but what good did it do me? I was stuck; stuck like glue; stuck like stink on a bloated corpse; stuck like fluff on a baby bunny.

I think there might be some wisdom in thinking of chronic pain as like a bad drug trip. If you throw all the energy in your emotional arsenal into defeating it, it will catch that energy and throw it right back at you twice as hard. This means that the only way to deal with the problem is to stay loose. So, with that in mind, let us pray,

May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord shine his fatherly countenance upon us and keep us loose, now and forevermore. Amen.

Household Gods

I have often thought that I would like to have a home altar, but two things work against it. One is that I have never been able to clarify what its purpose would be. The other is that I am a decorative minimalist. Things, even things I treasure, weigh on me. If you are possessed of a collector mentality, you will not understand this. Peggy does not understand this because even Peggy—who could not tell you if Barack Obama is a Democrat or a Republican, and who holds religion in the same low esteem that she holds politics—has a shrine in her room. She didn’t build it to be a shrine but, for reasons unknown even to her, she calls it her “Rabbit Shrine.”

I too have a rabbit, three in fact. Two are stuffed ones from childhood Easter baskets, and one of those still bears the stitches sewn by my mother after my dog made a determined effort to disembowel it. The third is in the form of a thirty-five cent candle that I saw in a junk shop while on a long drive through the countryside.

My attraction was instant and intense. I felt as if I had known Miss Bunny all my life but, as I said, I am not a collector. Because I am not a collector, I did not buy her that day, and so I had to drive over a hundred miles to buy her the next day. I mentioned that the store was a junk store, but I failed to say that it was, by country standards, a large and extremely junky junk store, and I misremembered what part of the store Miss Bunny was in. Luckily, I arrived six hours before closing.

It was some time before I could even theorize about why I felt that I had always known Miss Bunny. The bunny in the Little Golden Book that I got for my fifth birthday in 1954 is obviously a very different bunny, but you will also note the similarities.

Eugene has many stores that sell gods and goddesses (“idols made by hands” as I once called them) for home altars, but I feel no special affinity for any of them. I sometimes wish I did, but I don’t. People once thought they represented real entities—and some still do—but they are not real to me. They are often interesting, and sometimes beautiful, but they are not real; they do not demand my obeisance from across ten blocks much less a hundred miles. Even though Miss Bunny spends most of her life in the hall closet, she is still my chief goddess because she puts me in touch with the innocence and gentleness that lives within me, and that I have often tried to bury beneath a manly floor of concrete.

Here is another of my deities.

I wrote the following on the day I bought her:

January 25, 1987
Eugene, Oregon

I saw the print at the 5th Street Market a couple of months ago and fell in love with it but didn't want to pay $55. It was still there yesterday, so I got it for $25! Yippee! It reminds me of Peggy when she’s asleep, and of a storybook character from my childhood, and of a part of myself that few are allowed to see—the part that is vulnerable and innocent. I see many art objects that I like, but few that I love enough to bring home and look at everyday for years. I am absolutely ecstatic.

I can scarcely believe that 22 years have passed since I bought my squirrel. If I survive another 22 years, I will be 82. Peggy asked this morning if I ever think about how near death I am, even at best. Yes, all the time. The old tell the young that they too will someday realize how fleeting life is, but the young never quite believe them. It is not just my death that I grieve but the fate of all those things—like my bunnies—that I cherish and that no one else would be likely to appreciate. Then again, I own a jar of sand. The caption reads:

FRI. JULY 25, 1952

And this is what I wrote in my journal the day I bought it:

June 8, 1989
Richfield, Minnesota

We went to an estate sale where I found a molasses jar full of sand that someone had collected on a long ago vacation. I didn’t want it, but worried that no one else would either, and that it would end up in a landfill. I went back the last day of the sale hoping it wouldn’t be there, but it was, and I paid twelve cents for it. Someone had treasured it for decades, and I felt that I validated the good in them by preserving it.

Maybe someday I will have an altar. I will place upon it my storybook, my candle, my squirrel print, a vase of yellow daffodils, my molasses jar filled with sand, a picture of Peggy, and maybe one of me when I was a child. What else…I’ve always liked the painting of Jesus knocking at the door….

You see, it’s easier to start than to know when to stop. Even if I just limited myself to those symbols with which I resonate most powerfully, I could fill a room. But since I am a decorative minimalist, all those things would feel like a heavy weight on my chest, and I would eventually have to get rid of them. A prayer just entered my mind:

God save me.
“From what, my child?”
I don’t know.

God lead me.
“To where, my child?”
I have no idea.

God preserve me,
“Why, my child?”
Because despite my failures,
I am worthy.