Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Training Ground for Cursing

Back before I lost my faith in humanity; before I gave up searching for a Biblical reality in the Christian Church in America; back before I morphed into a warped, frustrated old man; I was a fairly peaceful, well spoken, polite, man, completely in control of my thoughts, emotions, and the words that proceeded out of my mouth.

Towards the end of my six year enlistment in the military I experienced a slow grinding conversion, or perhaps an enlightenment, centered on the Christian Faith. I quit smoking, quit cursing, and unbelievably, became quite the zealot.

The turning point came, the turning away from the plow point, ironically enough, when we moved to the ultimate training ground for all things cursing. The farm.

The following is an example of how I went from the reasonably sanguine, never even cursing under my breath, steady, peaceful person I became during my conversion to Christianity, to the masterful parlayer of creatively blue, vituperative idiom...

We bought the farm in June of 2001. The garden, such as it was, planted and producing sweet corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers. But by this time, the winter and summer squash were overrun by those little armored tanks that release a foul odor upon squeezing them between one's fingers, the squash bug. The soil was compacted clay and had been supported by regular doses of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. We were new to the small scale farming scene but somehow figured this wasn't right.

Along with the farm came two BeefMaster cows, one an experienced mother, the other a small and slightly, retarded looking heifer pregnant with her first calf. Oh what a blessing we thought that would be.

Within a month the first calf was born. The experienced mother did it on her own as we watched and worried. It was birthed in the southeast corner of our pasture and was a large healthy bull calf. In another month or so, the heifer gave birth to her calf. Well, we actually had to yank and pull the calf out of her, with assistance from the old farmer we bought the place from. Something didn't look right with it. The farmer congratulated us on a heifer calf. We were to find out that this little one - we named Dot - was mentally retarded and was actually a bull. It never got over 3 ft tall and was only about 4 feet long and 350 pounds by the time he was put in the freezer.

His half brother, Spot, was a much larger calf and grew to a reasonable size, not huge, around 500 pounds by the time he made the trip to the processor in Pottsville. Spot, the first animal I actually took a great deal of satisfaction in putting the freezer, turned out to be the slippery slope that turned me to the dark side - he made me lose my religion, taught me how to curse, and determined my children not to stay anywhere near a farm for the rest of their natural born lives, if ever they live that long...

It was a summer day, a weekend, and the fence that ran along our nothern boundary was in poor shape after at least 30 years of neglect. Three measly strands of sagging barbed wire strung along rebar posts and overgrown with honeysuckle, blackberry, and shrubs. The bordering property was a rental house, small, yellow, and noisy. No less than 38 young people stayed in the house at any given time and as a result, the dogs, cows, and cats all became intently interested in the strange noises emanating from the home late nights and weekends.

Cows get a bum rap. Sure they sometimes are beautiful creatures and even in their beauty they have an air of stupidity. I mean, honestly, they look stupid. But I assure you, cows are intelligent, and sinister. A Scottish Highland ranch owner in Birdtown clued us in on this little known fact about the bovine species when she said, "A horse can do tricks, but you have to keep training them for the rest of their lives. Cow, however, never forget. That's why that cow is going in the freezer..."she pointed to a huge, hairy, white Highland, "she figured out how to tip-toe across the cattle guard, now I can't keep her in the fence." To illustrate, Spot's mother, I have expunged her name from my memory banks due to the trauma I experienced, loved corn. Sweet corn, field corn, any corn. I am sure she would be an alcoholic cow if she had acces to corn liquor. She knew that the gate to the garden, which sits in the middle of the farm and is accessible from the main pasture area, was tied closed at two locations with baling twine. The knots were tied with double bow knots because surely cows can't untie baling twine. Oh, the naivety of the young farmer! Spot's mother, I forget her name now, but for the purposes of this story, I will call her Satan, stood at the gate for hours and days on end, ostensibly staring at a mother lode of corn on the other side. One day, by vigorously licking the twine in both locations over and again with her thick raspy tongue she, indeed, succeeded in untying the knots. The corn was decimated by the time we realized it and got her back out of the garden. Of course, not being the sharpest bowling ball in the shed, I retied the gate closed in the same manner. It was a mere few days before she had, once again, untied the twine and finished off the rest of the garden. This was a behavior, learned, and remembered that eventually led us to selling her off. Once she learned how to untie the knot, she did it over and over again.

The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Spot was in the side pasture, not really our property but the owner allowed us to run our cows on the little 2 acre plot to keep the grass down. He munched away for most of the day, nonchalantly easing his way across the patch of weeds and tall fescue and black berry vines, until he reached the northern fence row which ran about 20 feet from the yellow house full of degenerate youth. Apparently without knowing it, Spot managed to eat his way through the 3 strands of sagging barbed wire. For those of you with cows, or experience with this devilish species of meat, a cow can stick their head through barbed wire and eat, then serendipitously stretch one leg, through whilst eating, stretching out its neck as far as possible, the barbs digging into the thick leathery hide. Eventually they will stretch the other leg through while maintaining their current rate of munch, until the fence row is perpindicular to and pressed snugly up under its now bloated belly. Before you know it, even if you are keeping an eye out for this covert, "innocently" performed suspension of physics, the cow will have its rear legs, one at a time, drawn across the fence while it is continuing its feast. Now on the other side of where you want them to be, they will continue their slow munching trek right on down the road if you are not careful.Spot had learned to do this from his mother, Satan, and we were forever trying to keep him in what we like to call the "right pasture".

This was one of those days, a weekend, a nice relaxing weekend on the farm. I remember it being a seasonably cool day. The kids and I were outside. Patt noticed Spot was not in our pasture but had, once again, walked through the fence and was in the back yard of the yellow house.

                                                                                                                                                                                              (Satan walking down the road-2002)

*** The content of the remainder of this story has been edited to insure a pleasurable reading experience for people of all ages. As a result some epithets have been replaced with descriptive words or phrases that may imply much stronger language***

"The cows out!" she yelled. I can't remember what else she included in the shout but it went something like this I am sure. "That kneecap walked through the fruiting fence again. Gol Blammit!" The stream of profanity that issued forth from my wife did not embarrass me as much as it probably should. In retrospect, it actually seemed to make her feel better.

"Mason, Aaron, Ronny, Get the bell out here! The fruitin' cow got out. Split!", she continued. Now, I must explain. When Patt gets mad, something palpable happens to the universe. The warp and woof of the space-time continuum gets stretched as if some mysterious power grabs opposite corners of our existence and yanks! The resulting waves of dischord ripple through the physical environment causing all men within a twenty mile radius to wake up and realize that something, they do not yet know what, has gone bad wrong. As a result of this particular shaking of the universe the Hutchins men sprung into action. We had enough experience with "Save the Farm" emergencies to have laid out a plan for us all to man our posts. Within minutes we were all in place:

Aaron arose from the arm chair in the living room and slowly changed out of his pajamas into his work close so as to give the illusion he was on his way.

Mason slipped on his work boots and in a full bore linear panic (FBLP)* sprung through the screen door, slamming back against the house and its 30 year old hinges and ran down the hill to the center of the main pasture.

Ronny immediately took his post guarding his bedroom, specifically, the bed area of his bedroom, just in case Satan or any of her offspring should attack his collection of Biomicle action figures.

I grabbed a bucket of sweet feed from the shed, which 10 years later would become our home (a story for another day and the beginning of the S&T Blog). For some reason I had a big smile on my face - still impressed with the stream of profanity being bantered about the farm at the top of our voices.

Patt was already at the GPOC - global position of the cow - waiting, holding the situation status quo until her troops arrived.

I instructed Mason, on my way down the hill, to standby at the little brown trailer that had been left there by the former owner, and in which we stored our bales of hay just in case the feed did not coax Spot back into the "right pasture".

I arrived on the scene and Patt and I crossed the fence into the neighbor's back yard where Spot was busily mowing the lawn.

Spot was a feed hound. Especially sweet feed. He was addicted to it. But in spite of this addiction he refused to come to the outstretched bucket I held in my hands. Apparently he realized that he had stumbled across something better than sweet feed, based, probably solely on our reactions thus far. He had found the sweet tasting forbidden pasture, which, incidentally is the basis of the old saying..."The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side of The Fence". The only thing worse than someone actually using trite phrases such as this, is when they are actually proven to be true.

No matter what we did, no matter how sweetly we talked to him, nor how rancid our cursing became, Spot continued to eat the lawn, inching ever so slightly away from us as we approached. It became clear that Spot knew exactly what he was doing, who was in control, and that he had the power.

Seeing our efforts failing I turned to mobilize the troops. Aaron was still on the back porch "trying" to slide his work boots on. Ronny had his plastic toys safely guarded and Mason stood at-the-ready to assist by the brown trailer about football field away.

I yelled over to Mason. "Mason, gets some gol danged hay!" Mason sprung into action from his Modified Stationary Panic (MSP)* he was performing. He swung open the back of the trailer grabbed a hand full of hay - a small handful - and converted his energy back into the FBLP he had experienced just moments before as he sprinted towards our location. It was really a thing of beauty, really. Except, a small handful of hay carried in the hands of a 12 year old, running full steam towards us and the cow, with a look on his face like his hair had been set on fire would do little to calm the situation or entice the cow back into the pasture.

I yelled again. "Mason, Mason, No! No! Get a Ship Load of Futher Muckin Hay!" I do not think Mason could hear me as he kept running towards us. I repeated my delicate plea for the whole neighborhood, just in case they did not catch it the first time. "Mason - A Ship Load of Hay! Stop!"

The degenerate neighbors in the yellow house heard me though Mason did not. My third entreaty did the trick as Mason stopped dead in his tracks leaving a skid mark in the soil and perhaps one or two in some other places. He turned around and in a dead sprint headed back the 150 yards or so to the hay trailer.

I can only imagine what was going in inside the house. I have reconstructed what could have possibly happened using the facts as I remember them, the benefit of retrospect, and my imagination. The 37 or so inhabitants of the home, all young kids, a mix of 20 year old boys and girls were, I am sure, sitting or lying in various odd positions in the living room, smoking something or other, listening to grunge rock, dressed in the flannel and combat boots, and otherwise in a daze. There were at least two inhabitants coherent as I am sure the conversation went something like this, for clarity I will call these two Dennis Hopper (From Apocolypse Now) and Sean Penn (From Fast Times at Ridgemont High)

Sean: Dude.
Dennis: Wah?
Sean: Dude. Didjew hear dat?
Dennis: Dude.
Sean: Dude, Go chekit out man.
Dennis: Dude. No way man. U checkit out.
Sean: Dude.
Dennis: Dude.

There is something about the word 'dude' when spoken with emphasis and a compatible facial expression. Dennis got the message, picked up his cell phone, after locating it under the pyramid of PBC on the coffee table, and exited the Hive of Dude for the back yard. There is also something about this generation that causes them, in times of emergency, to forsake personal safety and heroicly take action by calling their friends on their cell phones to describe, the building on fire, the river cresting its bank, the bank robbery, or the escaped cow in the back yard.

Dennis, now really picture Dennis Hopper at the end of Apocolypse Now, began his play by play of the situation.

"Dude, there's a cow in my backyard. No, really, dude. I'm tellin ya - there's an FN cow in my back yard. It's lookin right at me. No I ain't shippin you. There's a MFN cow in my FN back yard man. No. Don't come out - it looks dangerous, dude. I told you there's a FN cow in the yard man." This continued as Patt and I  tried to get Spot on the right side of the fence.

Somehow, amid all of our screaming curses in which bad words were strung together in the most creative of ways, Dennis' ramblings about the elusive Back Yard Cow and the dangers one faces when coming across one, we were able to get Spot back onto our property. This was not the first time he escaped, nor would it be the last. Eventually we sold his mother and ate him. But I will always remember what he taught us.

There is no more effective training ground should one desire to learn to curse a blue streak than your local family farm.

* FBLP - Full Bore Linear Panic is a term coined by one of my favorite authors, Pat McManus in one of his hilarious short stories "Modified Stationary Panic" included in his collection "A Fine And Pleasant Misery".

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rain Gardening Or Perfect Beets, Carrots, and Turnips

I came across this painting, Gardening in the Rain by Brian Kershisnik, during one of my frequent work break/Google Search sessions. This particular session was induced by a phone conversation I had with my boss concerning employee evaluations and how I should be rating them on a bell curve. This, after I presented a demonstration of my employee accountability system (which I designed and which received major awards in my industry), at a recent district meeting. I was told basically that there is no way all of my employees can score a 4 out of 5 on their evaluations because that means every one is average. Mathematically, that is correct. However, if all of my employees exceed the standards I set for a 3 but fall short of the standards I set for a 5 then they must, according to the standards, be rated a 4. I was then told that eventhough their performance was good enough for them to all get promotions that went into effect at the beginning of our year (October) that I am not evaluating them on what they did last year, I am now, because of their promotions, rating them on their new positions, eventhough they have only been filling those new job titles, for 26 days. I was then told that I should be rating people on a bell curve. That is, 20% of my staff should get a 4 or above; 80% should get a 3, and 20% should be on a performance improvement plan. This means, no matter how well 80% of my staff do, they will never get a 4 or a 5, even if they meet the standard for those ratings.

Well, I felt like, once I got him off the phone, that I needed to take a walk. After a week of getting yelled at for things which I, ostensibly, have done wrong, I headed to the door to take a walk in the park across the street. Ah, it is raining. Immediately that scene in trading places where Dan Akroyd is at his lowest - he's poor, in  a Santa Claus suit, he drops his liquor because the paper bag he held it in was soaked by the rain; if I am not mistaken, a bus drives by and splashes him with water; this is when he pulls out a revolver, holds it to his head and pulls the trigger - snap! - the gun misfires. He then tosses the gun away and as it hits the pavement (off screen) the gun fires - I could be wrong, but you get the general idea. After clearing my head from these sinister thoughts, I took a drive around the block to cool off before heading back to the office. It was during this brief trip that I remembered a day in late summer 2009 on Shamrock and Thistle Farm:

It had been hot. But on this particular day, I can't remember which day, except to say that it was not Friday or Saturday because we were not at the farmer's market, it had started to cool down a bit. It was probably in the high 80s that day, the humidity broke, and a slight breeze started to evaporate the sweat from my skin. The white linen shirt I was wearing suddenly felt cold as the breeze swept across my shoulders. My big Tula straw hat was soaked around the band and I took it off for some relief.

I was hoe-ing between rows of newly sprouted beets to hold back the weeds for yet another day while the vegetables took hold. As I was hacking away at the Arkansas clay recently baked under a late August sun, lost in my thoughts - I heard the most comforting sound an Arkansas gardener can hear, in my opinion - the sound of distant thunder (I hope I do not owe Jack Pyle any recognition for this turn of phrase as it happens to be the title of his book 'The Sound of Distant Thunder - An Appalachian Story - but just in case, I mentioned him and his book just now).

Our garden is located at the bottom of the hill there on Shamrock and Thistle Farm, a five thousand square foot rectangle that over 10 years of limited tilling, massive amounts of organic matter, and manual weed and insect control was becoming a fertile swath of food growing excellence (FSFGE). It lies upon a north - south axis with the north end pointing towards Harris Brake Lake and the south end pointing towards Thornburg mountain. To the east is ToadSuck Bridge which crosses the Arkansas River into Conway. To the west is Petit Jean Mountain, my daddy's home town of Charleston, then Ft. Smith, and then the map, at least for me, shows the barren waste which is commonly called Oklahoma, Kansas, and beyond. It is to Petit Jean Mountain, the west, to which the thunder calls my attention. I am facing south and turn my head to the left in anticipation of much needed rain and the cooler weather the first large weather front of late August/early September usually brings. I look towards the ridge that lies on the western boundary of our property and see just the tops of dark clouds looming what looks to be just next door. I continued to work, hoping, to "get caught" in a rain shower, just to cool myself down, if for nothing else. This front is a little early in coming, I think. But I'll take it for sure. In west central Arkansas for the first 5 years of our time on the farm we could count on September 14 of each year to be the day, thereabouts, when the first big cool down would happen. Workers would arrive at work in the morning in short sleeve shirts, the front would push through during the day, and then they would freeze to death on their way to their cars at quitting time. This would not be that day. Nor would Sept 14 that year. In fact, that big cool down day seemed to be more and more delayed each year for the past three. This year it would be well into October before the semi-permanent relief of an Arkansas Autumn made its appearance.

The wind picked up as the storm grew closer. I stopped my weeding and looked at the clouds again. The air was noticeably cooler - in a fit of whimsy that I am normally devoid of - according to many that know me - I took off my muck boots and socks and continued barefoot, feeling the clay and soil and mulch squish between my toes as I walked up and down the rows. I could picture the rain coming down over Blue Mountain, Mount Magazine (Arkansas' highest point) and heading this way past Paris, Branch, Booneville, Russelville, picking up speed over Pottsville where he have our livestock butchered. Here it comes up on the west side of Petit Jean Mountain, the long sloping bank to this oddly out of place flat topped mountiain along the banks of the Arkansas, amidst the flat to rolling hills of rich river valley farm land. Oppelo is next then Perry, then Perryville, then Shamrock and Thistle Farm and then on to Wye Mountain, Lake Maumelle, and then the Queen City of the Midsouth - Little Rock.

I remember as the storm passed through, the winde nearly knocked me over at first and then settled to a steady breeze, late summer leaves, dried from the heat and lack of rain, began loosening their holds on mother tree, wiggled, then waggled, and with a rustling crescendo turned loose and rode the wind in swirls up into the dark sky and then back down onto the pasture, the road back to the lake, or the wilderness across from it. It was after this first gust that Ole Blue and Beowulf, and Golly all ran into the barn for cover. So did the chickens and geese, there normally deafening clucking and honking now drowned in the locomotive sounds of the wind. The goats layed down in their stalls - they don't like the rain - and I, well, I just kept on working, waiting for the first rain drop to fall down the neck of my soaking wet shirt.

I have no delusions. I am not Mr. Darcy emerging from the lake of his estate, in a sheer, water-soaked linen blouse. I am the guy in a linen shirt that used to be white but is now covered in mud created by nicotine stained sweat and the dust August in Arkansas produces in normally fertile soil. I had a long beard and long, shoulder length hair, sweaty, greasy, unkempt, the picture of Nordic Manliness, as my son Mason would say.

I had finished the weeding and was about to move on to my next project - thinning. Now that I could see which plants were plants, and which plants were weeds - are not weeds just largely misunderstood plants? (this is the subject for another time) I had only to thin the little sprouts of beets, radishes, turnips, and carrots out a little so there would be more room for the roots to grow down and out.

It was then I had a thought. I knew that root crops did not like to be transplanted and I had read (or had my own theories why) thy did not. The root has such a demand on the plant itself, that once it is established it requires a constant amount of water to produce the end product. This is why carrots, and beets, and other root crops grow down at a higher rate than they grow out. They are thirsty for water. And, this is, by the way, why a carrot looks like a carrot and not a bean. Anyway, back to my thought. If I were to transplant these sprouted beets and carrots, instead of thinning them for salads or to feed the goats, or more likely, to throw in the bed for their eventual nitrogen benefit, and I did this in the middle of a rain storm when they would have as much water as their little beet hearts (pun intended - I actually went a long way round to fit this one in) could want what do I have to lose? I was killing innocent beets anyway, why not liberate them from the confines of their overcrowded planting prison, and give them a chance to thrive? That all anyone wants right? A chance?

The first drops fell and I stood stock still enjoying the coolness, the wetness, the wind chilling me for the first time in months. Thunder all around, which means lightning all around, but I stood there. There is nothing more thrilling to stand in front of an Arkansas thunderstorm as it slams into you from the nothingness of Oklahoma where it picks up speed, and watching the clouds boil, the thunder roll (Garth Brooks - The Thunder Rolls - I am racking up the copyright infringements in this one), to ride the lightning (This one's dangerous, Metallic, Ride the Lightning, Metallica loves copyright lawsuits), to stand before this awesome power as it comes upon you, and not tempting the Creator, but submitting, looking into the sky and saying - "I've always dreamed that this is how I would go. Nothing scares me but the thought of a bullet coming right at me, right in the nose". - 'And its such a lovely nose too, George'. - George C. Scot and Karl Malden, Patton.

I said those words. "Here Lord, if you want me, here I am , hit me with your lightning, right in my nose.

"the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet." - Nahum 1:3. My favorite Bible verse.

He didn't take me - I think He knows me that I wasn't being proud - I was being humble. I was putting myself in correct relationship with Him - something I rarely do for some reason.

It started out an abruptly pelting rain, large drops, the kind you can almost see your reflection is as the fall before your face and splatter into the ground. In fits and starts a sheet of it would come down, like God, instead of striking my nose with a bolt, decided to have His fun and dump a bucket - a very large bucket- of cold water on me. Eventually, I am sure I smiled, a big grin that I am capable of but rarely find opportunity of, using. Here it finally comes. There was no calm before this storm, no gentle rain slowly building in its intensity. This was a good old fashioned, Western Arkansas Hill Billy Gully Washer and with the last fit and the last start it poured and poured, a steady grey sheet of big bullet sized rain drops fell without ceasing. These water-bullets rapping the aluminum roof of our newly built barn, the oaks and hickories, and elms bent over, what I remember being, almost double so that their tops reached to the ground. The animals were hid away for the duration and making no noise.

Within minutes a wall of water rushed down the ridge of our farm and into the garden. Pathways between rows filled up with this water, and since they were still mostly clay, they held the water on the surface and I found myself, shoeless, up to mid calf in muddy water. The raised beds were also initially underwater but the loosely packed dark soil soaked that rain up like a 15 pound Huggies (The Huggies brand is a trademark of the Kimberly Clark Corporation) on a newborn.

I dropped to my knees, now I am thigh deep in mud- because I am on my knees, I sank into the water between the rows. At first I lightly pulled up one of the crowded beet sprouts which retained a healthy coating for wet, muddy soil around its roots. I would then look for an empty space where my hand sowing laid them sparsely just 15 days before. I plunged my thick Hutchins fore-finger deep into the earth up to the back of my fat Hutchins hand. I picked up the seedling with the two or three tiny green, oblong leaves at the top and the long spindly deep red root trailing off below and with that same fat finger I pushed the beet root deep into that hole and with no little amount of pressure I packed the mud and water tightly around the stem.

That was easy enough but I'll be here all day at this rate. I could drown...

The next pass through the bed I decided to gently pull up a small handful of beet seedlings- 20 or so. I laid them, again gently as I could, into a standing pool of water. In the space I had just cleared I poked 20 holes into the mud with my finger and placed an uninjured seedling into each one, packing it firmly into place. Within about 10 minutes I had the first row of beets done; within the hour I had finished all five 20 foot rows of beets and with it still raining heavily I started on the one row of carrots. I only planted one row because I have never been able to grow long thick carrots in our dry compacted soil - didn't want to waste the space, the time, or the seed this year too. The carrots took longer because the seeds were much smaller to begin with. I ended up tossing more of the seedlings than I wanted because I did not have open rows to transplant them into.

I was a mess by the time I finished the job. And the ensuing weeks, with the plants evenly and graciously spaced I was able to mulch around each one with straw, leaves, and weeds that I had pulled. By harvest time I had 5 thick rows of healthy beet plants and 1 row of thick bushy carrot plants. I did not have to water for the rest of the summer or winter. The soil had stored enough water, the roots did the same. The thick mulch kept the ground soft and moist. And the plants grew like I had never seen them grow before.

I could tell they were ready for market because the tops of the roots had widened to the point that they were pushing themselves up above the layer of mulch I had put down. I could barely stand the anticipation as I pulled my first carrot of the year - a 7 inch long white French variety (I am an admitted Francophile). The beets we sold that year and in the suubsequent spring markets were the largest most colorful we had ever grown. Customers were infatuated with the large white fodder beets that looked like rounded off daikon radishes, the deep read heart shaped bull's blood, the cylindrical golden beets that resembled a pontoon, and the striped bull's eye beets on display at the markets we attended. We rarely failed to sell out of them before the market closed. And if they didn't, we didn't mind. We ate them ourselves.

Now there is some risk to gardening in this fashion. If one is not in good standing with the Lord, one risks a lightning bolt to the nose. So unless one is ready to meet one's maker, one should not attempt this at home. This paragraph is for potential lawyers to argue over in any potential lawsuit brought by any potential readers that potentially have the potential to try rains storm gardening.

I was feeling rather proud of myself for this discovery and told everyone I met that I had successfully pulled off transplantation of a root crop but as it happens to me quite often - God looked down and decided to put his friend Boyd back in his place.

Patt attended an earth day celebration in Little Rock that following spring and found a booth displaying beets that had been started in a flat and then when quite young as seedlings, were transplanted into prepared soil by some guy at the Heifer Project Ranch in Perryville named Ryan. I was disappointed. But validation is validation and we ended up catering his wedding a year later. But this is a story for another day...

So the next time a thunderstorm comes around and you lament that you will not have an opportunity to work in your garden; if you are brave; if you will not bring suit; put on your muck boots and use the bounty nature is giving you - see the mud, feel the mud, the mud... (Paraphrasing a line I remember from CaddyShack).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Combustible-Chapter 7- Century Lines

Century Lines

Part I

I've realized that I've brought Donny, quite a long way, on his journey, of reawakening without really relating who he is. And as I've tried to describe before; one can tell a lot about a man by looking at his shoes - but one can also tell much more about a man by looking into his home. It is there I take you now as he is continuing his walk past Bunker Hill - with a big goofy grin greeting all those he passes by. We still have a few moments before he turns the corner, labors up the hill, and then recites his mantra - "Red Door, Red Key...Grey Door, Grey Key"

It was bought by the Mackey's in the early 1989. It was a two story Georgian structure, red brick, black shutters, and a ubiquitous red door with brass knocker. It had been divided into four rental apartments, two on each floor and positioned to either side of the central stair case. It had been stripped of all character and painted rental home egg-shell white. Pictures were removed, cheap fixtures in the apartment kitchens and baths were installed, outlets were sloppily painted over in the landlord's haste to fill a vacancy. The multi level chimneys, at either end of the house, with stacked hearths along the outside walls, were capped off and gas heaters, the cheapest they could find, were installed, the richly colored, if not tattered and worn, window dressings were removed and given to a local charity or thrown in the garbage, and replaced by inexpensive plastic blinds. Chandeliers and sconces were replaced by two dollar light fixtures - those devoid of globes and operated by pull strings. Paint chips and cracks caused by the old house settling during winter freezes and spring thaws were not repaired, they were just plastered over and painted with a fresh coat of egg-shell white - and only the plaster was painted so that each apartment appeared to have zig-zagging stripes up and down the walls and across the ceilings. To enter the home, visitors, when visitors still used to come, walked up four broad steps to the landing, decorated, by Clara, according to the season from the day they moved in. Upon entering the door, the visitor, found himself in a small ante-room or foyer that was in varying degrees of renovation, depending on the time of the year. The house, beginning with this entrance that looked upon a wide stair case in the middle of the hall and slightly curving on its ascent to the second floor, had been stripped of its personality, its character, and its historicity. In this cloistered North Boston neighborhood, just blocks from the famous North Church, could have been, upon first look, any other two story apartment building conversion in any town. Clara changed that, room by room, hall by hall, project by project.

Clara was ill by this time and she didn't know that Donny knew it. In the renovation of this, their first owned home, she found energy, enthusiasm, and a modicum of health. Donny let her have free reign. He had started with a new research firm and once the paychecks started arriving, he gave Clara the severance settlement he had received to do what she wanted. And, lo, did she do just that.

The foyer was her first project - it being the most important as the first thing visitors would see. She sanded and primed the walls, stripped the moulding, sills, and door down to the original wood. She sanded the floor, almost single-handedly, with a second, or third hand, floor buffer equipped with a sanding pad. New paint, a sage green, eventually covered the walls, the trim re stained with a light stain allowing the grain of the cherry wood to shine through. The windows were scraped and cleaned, re glazed, the sills were stained like the rest of the trim and the floor refinished to a high gloss so that it looked as though it was covered in 3 inches of water. A large print of a stag, staring nobly across a valley, The Monarch of the Glen, was hung on one wall and a large mirror on the other. Under the stag, an umbrella holder and coat rack, both of cherry, stood to welcome them home, or wish a visitor well. Under the mirror, a long narrow table, also of cherry ran the length of the wall. Upon the table, a reed basket for storing keys, gloves, and other sundries, and a collection of boxes of assorted size and grain surrounding a large vase of painted pottery to hold Clara's regular purchases of cut flowers from a local market.

The room to the left, if one were standing in this foyer facing the staircase, had been gutted and renovated into a large kitchen and informal dining room. It now had new light fixtures in keeping with the early 19th century aesthetic. The fire places in what used to be two rooms, were uncapped, the gas fixtures removed, and put back into use. The wall separating the two rooms was removed to create a long hall with the kitchen along the back wall of the house - a modern kitchen - with a huge island in the center - a fire place to one side, a bar to the other, and then a huge bank of cabinetry and counter tops to the rear. The rest of the hall included a large dark grained dining room table, handed down from her parents when they passed on. Upon the table a modest linen table cloth. A large Turkish carpet, colors of cream, deep ruby red, and dark and light blues covered the floor and eight matching chair, with tan cushions surrounded the table. A large front window offered a view of the slightly sloping front lawn and the street. The fire places kept the massive hall warm in spite of its 10ft ceilings. The now smoothed and repainted walls were decorated with a series of paintings from an artist in Corinth Mississippi, and acquaintance made when the artist and Clara were filling an internship with a Catholic Mission in Ecuador. Positioned symmetrically in this "new" long hall now comprising the kitchen and dining rooms were prints and originals, in water color and oils, pencil sketches, charcoal and other media depicting the artists blossoming faith. The first, the right of the fireplace mantle, was a dark charcoal work in an equally dark, yet austere, coiled frame and grey matte. The scene is a large oaken table, the grain of the wood looks rough and gouged with age. A young woman, bearing a striking resemblance to the artist herself, is seated at the table, her head tilted slightly and resting upon her palm. One can almost feel the splinters from the table digging into her elbow. Behind her a great stone wall, drawn in intricate detail, a window opening out into a barren field.

The woman's hair is pulled back into a ponytail and she is reading a book which is laid open, without being held, on the table. And in that magnificent ability of art, one can almost read the words on the open pages at first glance. But a second look shows the artist's ability to make the viewer think there are actual words on the page. At any rate, there is no doubt, that the book she is reading is an open Bible. The two equally spaced columns divided by a vertical line on each page, the page numbers and chapter and verse headings give it away. This dark work was entitled "Time to Reconsider" and was one of Clara's favorites - she loved them all, but this one spoke to her, perhaps because she had bought it during her own spiritual re-awakening.

Equally spaced around the hall were others, to the right of "Time to Reconsider" was a much happier watercolor. A scene of six small blue and grey sailboats tied to a pier, some with mast and sail up some stowed away. Each was equipped with what looks like an oriental paper lantern at each stern. The contrast between the deep blues and shallow grays, the slightly accented ripples upon the water, that isn't really there, leads the viewer to believe in the existence of the smooth lake on a bright sunny day.

To it's right and now on the opposite wall from the first were two prints, again, equally spaced, both in colors of maroon and white contrasted in black. Both were in rosewood frames, tastefully turned. The first of these, untitled, was of what is believed to be the artists hand right hand, grasping an over sized black and silver, No. 8 paint brush which had been dipped in crimson. Though static in the painting, the artist was able to give it the slightest indication of moving forward as if to apply paint to the canvas, or perhaps moving back away after applying the pigment to the stark white background. In the center of the canvas was an outstretched hand, palm up. It was impossible to tell, if it were the hand of a man or a woman, certainly not a child's. The perspective supplied by the artist was such that the palm seemed to curve outward toward the viewer. In the center of the canvas and thus, in the center of this outstretched mystery palm was a large crimson wound. An obvious conclusion to make is that the artist herself had caused the wound. There is no indication of who was wounded. There was no title. There was no other identifying mark. But Clara thought she knew and Donny, would have to admit, that he shed a tear upon seeing the work for the first time. Donny actually convinced Clara to pay the asking price.

The companion to this untitled and powerful work was another untitled painting, dressed in maroon, white, and black. A small girl - the artist had 5 girls of her own - was seated on a floor that was not there upon a stark white canvas. She was drawn in crisp black outlines. Many times artists can achieve the most intricate details with very little by using the viewers imagination. This minimalist approach was effective in that one could "see" the girl was absolutely beautiful and absolutely innocent. She had a large book - again a recurring theme! - on her lap open. She was reading it. The heading at the top of the page read "Galatians 5:6".  The referenced text runs thus:

"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love."

And again, when viewing this painting, one gets the impression that one can actually read the words off of the page, when a second look, shows otherwise.

A series of other works by this artist continued around the room. Some depicting Ecuadorians - the artist eventually become full time missionaries in Quito. Some were more fanciful. There was a charcoal work of a woman, seated in a window, playing a lute, an oil of women from differing cultures a departure from the charcoal and black and red contrasts of earlier works, this one was full of colors delicately but boldly used. There was a charcoal depiction of the inside of Noah's Ark, from the inside looking out through the door, presumably, after the floods had abated. Other smaller works filled wall space along the remainder of the hall until one arrived back to the fireplace mantle and the coup de grace of the entire experience. Just to the left of the mantle, painted on Egyptian reed papyrus was a depiction of the life of Christ as seen through the Old and New Testaments.  At each corner an angel, head bowed, and wings displayed in a posture of reverence, knelt as if in prayer, all turned in at a 45 degree angle towards the center - of which I will arrive to presently. Between each corner vertically and horizontally, between the bowing angels were painted scenes, made to look antique with the colors the artist chose, as if the scenes were lifted from middle eastern stone. The scenes were placed around the perimeter of the painting creating a scenic frame depicting the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Solomon's Temple, The Birth of Christ, His Baptism, and His Triumphal Entry seated on an ass. Within this border was a rich royal blue field, rectangular on the vertical. In corners of this field, in Greek, were

the four designations or symbols for the Christian God. The Alpha and Omega in the upper left. The Anchor/Cross in the top right. Then on the bottom right, the traditional Christian Cross and finally on the bottom left the Icthus - the fish - standing upright.

The center of this painting, within the scenic border, upon the blue field, nestled in an around the four symbols was the image of a very middle eastern looking young woman her dark black hair and olive skin enshrouded in a tan and brown cloak. Her head was cocked to her right shoulder and in her arms she was cuddling a small infant. The scene is tender and powerful, modern and historical, peaceful and shocking - to North American sensibilities. It is called The Unknown God an obvious reference to the Apostle Paul's sermon on Mars Hill as described in Acts 17:23 and possibly a more subtle reference to other words Christ had used about how even though we've been told over and again - we humans would not believe him if God came down himself. The painting had a history of its own. A local church in Corinth Mississippi decided to get into the art game, ostensibly to help attract new members. They committed to display, and sell when they could, art made by local artists. The artist of The Unknown God submitted this painting to the church leadership. They denied her request,  stating, "If that's Mary - she looks too middle eastern. It would offend some of our members."

Upon hearing the story, Clara paid the price for this original work. It was the crown jewel of the main hall.

As we continue through the bottom floor of the house, we now move into the utility area adjoining the kitchen through a communicating swinging door. This area, though out of sight to most visitors, was also tastefully done in the blue and yellow of French Provincial, and housed a utility room and renovated bath in two smaller rooms separated by a thin wall that Donny and Clara built on their own one weekend. In the utility closet were the washer and dryer and a small pantry with hooks hanging down supporting wire baskets of potatoes, onions, beets, winter squash, and garlic.

We now move upstairs where an additional bath was installed, a larger one communicating directly with the master bedroom in the south east corner of the home. There was another room adjacent to the bath but there was no door between. One had to leave this spare bedroom and walk into the master bedroom to access it. "Not ideal", Clara had said to herself, "but one works with what one has." She really talked that way. The other two rooms were another spare bedroom decorated in blues and greens and a larger family room with the television set and the sofa on which Donny had watched the Miracle on Markham last weekend.

I've saved the best for last. And, much shortened the description of the rest of the house, because we are just now getting to the room that provides a glimpse into the soul of our hero. Leave the family room, turn off the TV and the lights, we're not going to be in there for a while, walk with me down the staircase to the entrance of this magnificent home. Facing the door, now, turn left ninety degrees. There is a door, kept closed, open it and walk in. This is Donny's study. This room is a part of Donny. This is where he napped, where he read, where he wrote, where he sat and thought and stared up and the ceiling. This is where he smoked, when he used to smoke, this is where he dreamed, this is where he hid, this is where he exorcised his demons, wrung out his periodic depressions. This is where he talked to Clara now that she was gone. This is where he mourned her death. This is where he relaxed. This is where he was home.

The room was darkened - dimly lit- to be precise. The walls were painted a deep red. A darkly stained wainscoting surrounded the room, its circumference punctuated by book cases along the eastern wall, windows in front, leather chairs, the door, more book cases.  A large desk sat in the center facing a small leather divan, both resting on thick deep red carpet. The desk was extraordinarily organized, unlike his office downtown, he protected this room as a priest protects a sanctuary. Everything reverentially in its place. A large heavy blotter pad sat centered on the highly polished surface. A phone, land-line, to the right, a banker's lamp, one of the few light sources in the room, was centered along the front edge of the desk. A small cup, fashioned out of a piece of cedar, hollowed out and darkly varnished held an assortment of Cross pens and mechanical pencils. In the center drawer, a small stack of notepads to the left and the right, held in place refills for the pens and pencils, paper clips, staples, and other office supplies. The only other light in the room, other than the natural light from the front window, when the blinds were opened, was a floor lamp, brushed bronze with a red shade marked the point in the northwest corner of the room where the book cases started. Short one, tall ones, long ones zig-zagged up and down like the Boston skyline all the way around the room. Along the eastern wall sandwiched in by the book cases to either side was the last fireplace to be described in the house. The mantle was of an ornate work carved out of a dark heavy wood. Clara always thought it was mahogany. The deep colors represented in the grain of this dense wood, ranging from red to brown to purple and black depending on the light, made her think it so. It had been hand carved, it appeared, with ornate leaf work around the top edge, punctuated by two cherubim at opposite corners along the front edge, both kneeling reverently, wings stretched forward in submission, covering their unseen faces. Above the mantle hung a poster Clara had bought for him framed in a black plastic poster frame. It was bright red with large white letters. At the top of the poster was a representation of the crown jewels, also in white. The text read "Keep Calm and Carry On". This poster was the only frivolity inhabiting Donny's study. Everything else was serious, comfortable, but serious. Serious books lined serious book shelves. Serious furniture was scattered across the serious floor. Even the lighting was serious - mysterious really. Who doesn't feel a certain sense of gravity fall upon them when entering an orderly, ancient looking, darkened room? Donny felt a sense of comfort in this darkened hideaway. One might say it was his attempt to return to the comfort of his mother's womb. Clara had free reign in redecorating their home and she did a masterful job. It was bright, crisp, and comfortable to a degree. The study was Donny's and she followed his lead in this room. And while she could never bring herself to completely shut down - sitting and doing nothing was a physical impossibility for her - she understood that inactivity was one of Donny's particular talents. Donny could sit in this room, depending on the day or the stresses of the day, and work feverishly or sit and stare and do and think absolutely nothing.

It is now time to rejoin our hero on his hurried walk back to his home, his study. He left his office as we have seen deciding to forego his stop at the coffee shop. He had been walking for 30 minutes or so when he realized that instead of turning right on Boyston Street for HayMarket and then the 3 mile walk across the Charlestown Bridge home, he had turned left onto Hemenway past the Boston Fens and Fenway Park complex and veered to the right on Huntington Avenue. When he awoke from this excited daze he was in he was standing in front of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He remembered Clara's obsession with "What, Whence, Whither", Gauguin's philosophical work that always brought her to tears. They had made good use of their annual membership to the museum and perhaps Donny's arrival at this spot could best be described like this.

Analytical minds function best when strict compartments are constructed in their brains. This helps them cope with stresses, traumas, boredom, all ranges of emotions. Even epochs in the lives of these analysts are compartmentalized and assigned value based on the pleasantries, dullnesses, or traumas associated with those periods in time. For Donny, perhaps, the walk through downtown Boston with Clara, a walk they made together many times over the years, had been labelled "Pleasant", stored in the Clara compartment and the stowed away after she had died. Donny then entered a new period of his life that was, in its turn, compartmentalized, labelled and stowed - maybe "Depression" or "Sadness" is the label he placed on this current box or file drawer he was now living in. Perhaps, just perhaps, when he awoke in his office just a little over half an hour ago, he had unconsciously closed the Depression Box, stowed it under his emotional bed, and pulled out the Clara Pleasant box for nostalgia's sake and immediately reverted to the habit of turning left on Hemenway, with Clara on his arm, walking through Fenway Park to the Museum. At any rate, here he was. His annual membership expired. There was nothing for it but to turn around and now walk in the right direction the four miles home.

What awaited him there is yet to be seen. We do know, that Ms. Davis had just arrived, as Donny was realizing his directional snafu, and was preparing a small dinner for him. He changed his mind when he reached Haymarket -Finally! and ordered a iced Americano complete with dysfunctional straw to help him get home.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Didn't Have This Trouble (P in a Bucket)

Didn't have this trouble when we were pee-ing in a bucket. If one can get over the indignity of carrying one's own waste to a remote corner of one's property, there really is little to go wrong.

No flapper valves or flapper valve chains to get entangled, resulting in a constantly running toilet.
No rusted tank bolts requiring a hacksaw to cut loose.
No brittle plastic over flow tubes requiring the tank to be cut loose from the base of the toilet to replace.
No auto fill valves the pop and squeal and slowly fill the tank.
No floating
No wax rings that need to be replaced should one have to remove the toilet base and tank to clear a clog.
No plungers, snakes, or augers required to clear a drain of army men or last night's bratwurst binge.
No $50.00 worth of tools and $25 worth of parts.
No cursing, swearing, tension.

And if the bucket backs up. One simply dumps it on the pile at the far end of the property.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Physiognomy (from the Gk. physis meaning "nature" and gnomon meaning "judge" or "interpreter") is the assessment of a person's character or personality from his outer appearance, especially the face. The term physiognomy can also refer to the general appearance of a person, object or terrain, without reference to its implied characteristics.

The ancient art of Physiognomy, if learned and practiced, may be useful to catch a glimpse into the soul of a person, their thoughts, ideas, world-views, without regard to the content or veracity of the words escaping from their mouths. Alexandre Dumas made use of this art in many of his writings. The Count of Monte Christo was a master of reading physiognomies in constructing the events which eventually led to the fulfilled vengeance he desired after being betrayed...   Let's apply the art of physiognomy to this year's presidential election, if you will allow me to do so...    
Notice the slight tilt of Governor Romney's head, the semi-smile centered on slightly tightened jowls, the slight down cast eyes and strong brow, slightly raised above the bridge of the nose; the slightly wrinkled forhead which denotes a superiority, real or imagined. Without uttering a word, Governor Romney, in his manner, demeanor, and facial expression, is speaking volumes. The head tilted toward President Obama, the eyes tilted in their sockets so as to project a "looking down upon" the President, is like the expression of a parent, communicating to their child who has, once again, failed to clean their room. One can almost imagine this parent saying something like, "Now Billy, you know you can't get a bedtime story until you clean your room." In this instance, Governor Romney, with his physiognomy, seems to be saying, "You poor, uneducated man. You just can't keep up can you? So sad."        
    President Obama may be studied as well, simply by observing the facial expressions. I've looked at several from different points in the debate so as to not take his physiognomy out of context. This expression was flashed by our President several times, usually during a personal attack from Governor Romney. The downward glance implies he was struggling to control some emotion. In fact, during most of the debate, President Obama failed to look at Romney while Romney was speaking. This implies a discomfort - an irritation- not unlike the discomfort I feel when I am speaking to someone who is condescending or to someone, I know, is arrogantly pulling my leg, as if I didn't know. This tight lipped smirk shown here, implies a humorous internal conversation. It is my opinion that President Obama's internal conversation went something like this:   "I want to lay into him so bad, but my advisors tell me to let it go. Can't believe this tripe. This guy makes my brain hurt. Okay, okay, big man, just keep talking. The press is going to check what you say. Just let it ride. Let it ride."              

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Combustible Chapter 6 - Salt and Bananas

Salt and Bananas

Jaime was trying to do the math in her head. She was out of salt and really wanted one bunch of bananas. But with the 40 dollars she had in her pocket she wasn't sure if she could swing it. It was Monday, just three days after payday and the two $20.00 bills were all she had left after rent, utilities, lunches, the babysitter, and a "new" pair of shoes, bought from the Goodwill off of Pat Booker Road. At least they were "new" to her. With four days till her next pay check, Jaime, standing in line at the HEB Grocery in San Antonio, was weighing her options. The facts and figures ran through her head much more quickly than I can describe them to you:

"Gas tank = 3/4 full
Diapers stocked.
Baby food in the cart = $10.95 + 8% sales tax (why do they tax food anyway?)
Bananas = $1.19
Salt = $.89

That's about $14.00 and I still haven't bought formula, FHP, and eggs for the kids for breakfast this weekend, and then there's the supply fee due for the preschool, and the extra $10.00 for picking the kids up late from the after school babysitter...I just don't have enough."

The single Mom had been here before, deciding what to put back on the shelf if she wanted to do what was right, but what is right? She didn't rent movies; she didn't eat out; she didn't go on dates; she didn't buy lunch at work. She had no pets - not even a gold fish. She turned off her cable back when things got really tight. She's driving around with a tail light out and the front end of the car shakes a little when she brakes. There's a leaky faucet in the bathtub which is making her water bill higher than usual. She cut her own hair and tried her best, without products she couldn't afford, to style it in as fashionable an appearance as she could, both to hide the uneven lines produced as she tried to cut the back holding a hand mirror and staring into the bathroom mirror looking over her shoulder, and to keep from getting into trouble with her appearance at her office job, where she made very little money to copy, type, file, answer phones, plan travel for the executives, and look pretty. Right now her bob-cut red hair hang limp around her worried face as she thought to herself:

"Maybe if I put half the baby food back and get some marked down hamburger. I don't guess I really need the bananas either. I really need to wash my hair and I am almost out of shampoo. Half the baby food will get me through till Thursday night, then I'll have to come here again for the rest once I get may paycheck cashed. Ah! Getting the check cashed costs me 1%. One percent of $432 is four dollars, thirty two cents. The kids have been invited to a birthday party, we're not going to be able to go - can't get a present."

She stayed in line and rolled the reality of things through her mind over and over again, as she shuffled forward as each shopper paid and moved on with their lives.

"If I leave the line to put this stuff back now, people are going to get pissed and then I'll have to stand in line again, and that will make me late picking up the kids."

She teared up in frustration. It was then she decided her kids would not go without food, nor was she going to feed them weeks old hamburger for dinner. She pulled out her check book the moment she decided her best course of action.

Now readers, this is November 2002, a time when it was still possible to participate in the activity known as "floating a check"  - a procedure, no longer possible at most establishments in this, our present day.

She felt guilty doing it. But somehow she rationalized it by distinguish between what was "right" and what was "legal". Sometime the two are mutually exclusive.

It was Monday, one week into the pay period and with just the two badly worn twenties in her purse, she wrote a check for $47.23 which, should, unless something happened between now and then, get her through till next payday - four long days away. She did this knowing that even if she deposited those twenties in the bank tomorrow morning (the banks were now all closed) she would be overdrawn by $7.23, which would result in a $25.00 overdraft fee. As the check was accepted, stamped, and stuck under the tray in the register drawer, she felt no relief. She knew she would be back again tomorrow, or perhaps she would try a different store. On Tuesday morning, after dropping the kids off at eight o'clock, she swung by the customer service desk of a Kroger's down the road from the HEB she wrote the hot check at the night before. She cashed another check for $48.00. She held that cash sacred throughout the morning at work and then during her 30 minute lunch break, she skipped her brown bag lunch, leaving it in the office fridge, and stopped by her bank. She signed the deposit slip at the desk situated in the middle of the luxurious-glass-clad building, walked gingerly to the first open teller she could find, guiltily deposited the cash. The teller gave an almost inaudible "hummph" as she pulled up Jaime's account, and no doubt, saw her balance of almost zero, logged the deposit, printed the receipt and slid it across the marble counter top, "Have a nice day" she said not without some amount of sarcasm. The same pattern would be repeated for Jaime on Wednesday, Write a Check, Cash a Check, Deposit Cash, Suffer the humility, Get...Through...The...Week... Then Thursday again and then again on Friday as she did not get her paper paycheck until 5pm every other Friday. Then Saturday morning she would need to be at the bank at 9AM to make the final deposit - her actual paycheck. If everything went right; no paper work went astray, no data entry errors were made, and if she remembered the sequence she needed to maintain she would start the pay period off, $48.00 in the hole.

If anything were to go wrong; if she couldn't make it to the bank at lunch; if the store would not cash her check because she went to the well once too often, if she forgot, for some reason, any of the steps in the sequence, she would find that she not only owed the $47.23 for the original check, but $48.00 for each subsequent check, plus the over draft fees. Let us calculate the hole Jaime had dug herself.

$47.23 + ($48.00 x 3 for the days leading up to pay day_ = $191.23, if all of the checks bounced because of a mistake add $25.00 per check x 4 checks = $100.00 in penalties for a grand total "debt" of $291.23. That's some mighty expensive baby food, bananas, salt, eggs, etc. But what else could she do? The grocers were not about to let her borrow the food with a promise to pay on Friday. Besides, the "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" did not work for Wimpy in the Popeye comic strips. No, she did what was "right" by doing what was "illegal" and somehow she was able to justify it that way. But the justification fell far short of alleviating the tension this caused her in her life. Tension which, by the way, caused her body to perspire, her muscles to contract, her pulse to quicken - the constant state of worry depleted her body of calcium, potassium, salt, fluids. The stress, which in short durations primed the body, made it more efficient, more prepared, those enzymes and proteins, and sugars and salts, and adrenaline, is a thing of beauty when kicked into gear during short periods when they are needed. But to maintain that stress too long, depletes the body's reserves.

And now, to the importance of the salt and bananas in this sad tale. Sodium Chloride, ordinary table salt, is vital to the functioning of the human body. As is the potassium, found in the banana. Jaime's cells, those that operate the contractions that enable her muscles to leverage her bones into motion, help her walk; those cells in her brain that function so as to allow her to plan complex sequences to float checks and worry about the next bill to come in the mail, while performing the functions of her job, are dependent on the sodium chloride and potassium in her body to function. This, then, is that magnificent creation, mentioned several times already in this story - the Sodium Potassium Pump.

The transfer of the sodium and potassium across the cell membrane as it is repeated causes a minute electrical charge, or more correctly, a difference in electron potential across the cell membrane. The pump is constantly opening channels and "swapping" three positively charged sodium ions with two positively charged potassium ions in and out of the cell. This causes the electrical potential of the cell to vacillate between a positive charge and a slightly more positive charge. The resulting electrical current flow is the basis for all of life. There is little known, for instance, about the sino-atrial node depicted in diagrams for the human heart. This SA node is commonly referred to as the "natural pacemaker" of the heart. Science has endeavored to explain, where it is located and how it functions. All we know, even at this late date in our human history, is it functions on the theory of the sodium potassium pump. If this exchange is interrupted, the potential for the natural pacemaker of the heart to cease functioning, is increased. And, according to the hero of our story, all of this is simply an observation from inside the machine. And, without some outside influence or without the ability to view the workings of the machine from the "outside" the glue that holds the machine together may never be completely know. As it stands at this point in our narrative, and even in our present day, humans (a part of the natural world) "seeing" what holds that atom together and atoms together, to form cells, and cells together to form organs, and the sodium potassium pump together, to give those cells and organs function, would be like a speedometer observing the operation of the automobile, writing a paper on how it functions, and explaining how the automobile came to be. This is an impossibility. It is also the most primary question for all of human philosophical thought, religion, and science. Philosophers struggle with the question of why. Science struggles with the question of how. And religion struggles with the questions who. In this sense, Donny was philosopher, scientist, and priest. As he worked his way home from the office after four or five more minutes of staring at the framed needle work over his door - "In Him All Things Consist" - the question of the sodium-potassium pump once again, began to dominate his thoughts. A small seed of a purpose was sprouting and reaching for the sunshine of reality that had been eclipsed by the sudden darkness into which he was thrust. It was his musings of all of these things, a renewed spark of desire to continue his search, and perhaps the thought that maybe the answer was still out there, that caused him to skip his afternoon stop at the coffee shop and his pitched battle with flimsy straws. Halfway over the Charlestown Bridge, he stopped. Looked to his right at the US Constitution, the oldest active war ship in the naval fleet, docked there - the first time he had done so in over a year. And like a young child, he marvelled at the crisp black and white paint, the rigging upon which sailors clung with buckets of whitewash and tar. The flags adorning the masts and the decks, the noise of the city. His heart leapt with joy and excitement as he looked down between his feet through the grating to the water below. His heart raced, his face became flushed, his pulse quickened, his breath grew short. A smile appeared across his face causing his scraggly beard to bunch up on his cheeks, exposing two rows of imperfect, coffee stained teeth. He felt alive, his humor resurfaced,

"My little pumps are working full steam ahead now..." he said to himself. He then continued his walk, where before it was a lethargic slog of one foot in front of the other, it was now a brisk, energetic stride taken by a man who had been recalled to life.

This was the importance of salt and bananas.