Red Pepper

The news was too much to bear

She sobbed freely inside
the open window of the brick tenement

The old man beside her, 
his emotionless face creased 
and browned from the sun,
stared at his smoldering cigarette

The sounds of life’s ceaseless rhythm
swirled around them

Half a red pepper lay on the sill

Something Akin to Incoherent TRUMPeting

I’ve never been one to despair over the state of our national government. I’ve become frustrated, unhappy and baffled, but despair, thats not my style not on this matter anyway, until now. The current administration is just the icing on the cake of all that has been going on since this pandemic consumed our nation and the world. I take that back–the current administration is not the icing; it’s the candles and they are extra large and flaming and threatening to burn down the house. 

Despite my depression I am a rather optimistic person. Some days I have to work harder at it than other days, but on the whole I try to look at the positive in any situation. I have learned recently, though, that I can be optimistic, have hope and still wake up and see that last dirty dish in the sink that I did not wash because all I wanted to do was go crawl into bed and read my book. And that one dish takes all that hope and optimism out of the day and throws it aside. This is normal operating procedure when my depression is leading the tango, but right now it’s not, though it is trying rather hard. 

The start of the pandemic was good for me, the way life slowed down. There was a bit of fear because Erin was taking care of the COVID patients at the height of it all. Still, I relished the slower pace, the saunters in the woods and the time spent with the boys. But that has grown stale as travel plans have been scuttled and we’ve had to tell the boys we can’t do this or that because of the blasted pandemic. As we creep closer to the end of summer, I wonder if school will open again or will we be home schooling–Lord, I hope not. I don’t like teaching and frankly for the mental and emotional health of the boys, they need to go back to school. For my mental and emotional health they need to go back to school. 

It’s the unknowing of everything that is the worst. The news is a crap shoot mostly filled with opinions and no longer “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.” Not to mention all the frivolous news that clogs things up like how long the Dutches of Drunkenshire hair has gotten during the pandemic. You should see how long my hair has gotten. It always sticks up, and the boys tell me I am looking like Frankenstien, sans the scars and bolts in my neck. 

In the middle of all this our little state put a law into play–no more food scraps in the garbage. This was set to happen long before the pandemic got underway but really who was thinking about it? Certainly not me. They have left it up to each household to figure out what to do with their food scraps. We already compost but a compost does not take meat, bones or dairy. No one comes to our neck of the woods to haul away the food. What is one to do? It makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and cry. Food scraps have done me in. It seems ridiculous but it is the truth, my brain just can’t handle it right now. But it has been said that the cure for depression is action and so I have taken action. In the middle of the night I sneak over and bury the un-compostables in our neighbors yard. They don’t like us that much anyway so why not stoke that fire. It’s the American way–your way is always right. 

Throwing these thoughts onto the page is certainly helping me see the forest for the trees. It allows me to put faces to the voices in my head who are generally batshit crazy–which is an odd expression but always brings a smile to my face–but it allows me to come to terms with it all or at least see it from a different point of view. Thats something we seem to have thrown out with the food scraps, listening and taking the time to understand someone else’s point of view. We need to accept the fact that our societal norms are a hot mess. 

There is always hope though. Well, not with the current administration thats an out of control fire, with the clowns running around spraying jet fuel instead of water. But in our daily lives on a daily basis there is hope–as long as you don’t look at the news. We need to cut ourselves some slack or perhaps pull ourselves up and stop whining. I’m in both camps–which is clear as this diatribe is a bit of a whine fest and not the jolly kind either. I try to tell myself it’s ok to leave the dishes at night and go get lost in that book and get a good nights sleep. Then during the day I try to force myself to be productive at least a little and not just go scroll through the Yahoo news feed which is a hodgepodge of despair and irrelevant information. Often I choose the latter and then I go about scolding myself for not getting things done. This lovely dichotomy is the tango I dance and it is nothing new. There is a point to my rantings and rambling here as I am hoping to flush out how I really feel. To quiet the voices in my head. How long will it take for all the frustration, fear, and unsettledness to seep out from the nib of this pen? 

It was the talk of food scraps with Erin that set me off this morning–that, and the senator from Florida suing over a mask mandate. Really! I read the transcript. I try not to watch the interviews because I want to punch these fools in the nose and doing that only cracks the computer screen. He claims it infringes on his and everyone else’s constitutional rights. It does not. But we like to throw that around–our “constitutional rights.” It’s like a child telling everyone who makes them mad that they are going to sue them. I did that; my mom was a lawyer. Where is my soapbox I need to climb onto for a moment? Oh yes it is under my feet. 

There are public health standards and mandates folks, that the government can put into place for the good of the nation. Not that they are doing that now but they could if they put down the jet fuel for a moment. Think seatbelts, drunk driving laws and no smoking in public places. The masks don’t effect your health either, other than in a good way. If they did, if they did not allow enough oxygen to get to your brain, then we’d have a serious shortage of doctors because they would all be dropping dead or be so brain damaged they could not preform their work. Also wearing a mask in school will not rewire your child’s brain because they can not see someone else’s full face. Seriously some mother said that at a mask hearing in Utah. A hearing that was shutdown because people were not wearing masks. If you really want life to go back to normal then when you go out in public wear a damn mask. It is that simple. Despite adolescent logic none of us have or ever will be invincible. Also this not a hoax, this is real and the sooner the government pulls their heads out of where the sun never shines, the sooner we can be through this. But it also takes personal responsibility.It always takes personal responsibility. 

I’m feeling better now. I’ve brought my focus back into the cluttered house with the floors that desperately need to be swept. A house filled with the rucuks and noise of two lovable boys who keep me on my toes and a wife who takes care of strangers–some of whom she’s watched die from this so called hoax. Then she comes home and takes care of us too. It has been a bumpy couple of months for her and I. We are each others safe space so we direct our frustrations real and imagined at one another. We dwell on the things that drive us nuts about each other rather than all the good things. It has gotten really ugly at times–it’s a microcosm of our society. We all have to work at changing the world. Starting in the moment where we stand, wherever that may be. It starts with taking a good hard look at ourselves and working outwards from there. What are your prejudices, your convictions, your faults. 

The candles on the cake are raging but if you stick your finger ever so carefully between them, you can get a bit of the frosting and taste the sweet joy of life. 

3 AM St. Petersburg

Brown curly hair pulled back tight
she sits at a smooth metal table
grasping a steaming styrofoam cup
with hands calloused from manual labor

Her skin is soft with age 
textured with deep wrinkles from
years in the St. Petersburg sun

Dark eyes hold the sadness of life
amplified by large round glasses
lips taut with memories

Dreams and discarded cigarette stubs 
lie at her feet

Lazy Parent Night

Erin has never had the stomach for battles at the dinner table. She has always felt that having the family gathered around the table was far more important than what was being eaten. Because of this for a long time we would often cook three different meals each night. Luke would have his chicken nuggets, Noah would have oatmeal or an egg and Erin and I would have whatever had tickled my fancy that week when I’d made the menu.

As they have gotten older and we have traveled more, we have worked at doing away with different meals. This effort has proven trickier than I thought it would. Not because the boys refuse to eat what we’ve made, though that does happen. Rather it is because I often forget that I am buying for more than two people and when the boys do like something they have been known to eat a lot more than one would think an eight and ten-year-old could. This leaves us with no leftovers, as I had planned, and Erin and I haggling over the crumbs of the meal. It also seems far more complicated and time consuming to cook one meal with sides than it ever did to cook three. Our short order days were so ingrained that it seemed like far less work. Whereas trying to come up with and remember to make a side dish might as well be akin to asking me to solve a quantum physics problem.

My memories of nightly family dinners growing up are of candles on the table, my mom’s salad and a different main course every night. I am not sure how my parents did it. They both worked, and take-out was something we only saw on TV. There are nights I can barely muster the energy to feed myself, let alone the family, and I don’t work outside the home. To that end, I came up with the idea of what I like to call Lazy Parent Night. The concept is simple, I will make them whatever they want as long as the meal involves only one pot or pan. So if Noah wants french toast sticks, which are far more involved than they sound, he is out of luck. A boiled or grilled hot dog, you got it, grilled cheese sandwich, eggs, chicken nuggets, waffles (frozen of course) no problem. But nothing that requires too much effort either in the making or the cleanup. The best part of Lazy Parent Night is that we get to eat in front of the TV. When I was a kid I got to do this one night a week, when Disney had their Sunday night movie. My dad would even deliver me my fried-egg sandwich. It is one of my favorite and sharpest memories from childhood. I hope Lazy Parent Night is that for the boys for it is the simple things that can ignite the greatest joy.

The Non-Drinker

In college and for a handful of years afterward, I self-medicated with alcohol, not that I understood that then. During this time, I was more apt to go out drinking than participate in other activities. I stopped drinking to get drunk in my early thirties; my body no longer could tolerate it–for the life of me now I cannot understand the appeal. I do know that I got drunk in my twenties because I did not like the person I was. Drinking encircled the darkness and quieted the demons. It allowed me to be someone else. Not that I really liked that person either, especially when I woke up the next day. I’ve come to conclude that only by the grace of God, did I not go down the path of alcoholism.

My drinking settled down after I met Erin, though it was still a major social activity in our lives. It slowed a bit more when Erin became pregnant if only because I was now drinking alone. Still, I would come home every night from my job as a creative director and have a drink or two to unwind. That is what I told myself anyway. In reality, I was still fighting with myself. I did not know then that I had depression, so I would have a drink because it helped me to create the false image that I had finally made something of myself and I deserved a drink. Alcohol is hubris’s best friend. Erin told me later that I was drinking more than I realized, that my drinks were often far more rum than tonic.

For various reasons, alcohol took less and less of a priority in our lives. When we did drink, though, I found that I was always wanting more and that scared me. For a long time, I tried to figure out how I could stop drinking completely. It had been such a part of my life for so long that I was not sure how to go about it. What would people think? My therapist helped me along by telling to me that it made no sense to be taking an anti-depressant and then going out and taking a bunch of depressants. It is no wonder I would feel like mental crap the day after I had a few drinks. This way of looking at it gave me the ability to stop drinking.

Because I was drinking so infrequently at the time it was not that hard for me to stop. I did long for a drink now and again but not enough that I was willing to go out and buy something. The cravings were far less than when I quit smoking so I knew I could handle them. There have been a few special occasions with family that I have shared one nice glass of whiskey or wine. Though the last time I did this at a dinner celebrating my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary, the slight buzz I got left me feeling so unsettled at the seeming loss of control that I am not sure I will even do it again.  At first it was far harder to find the right words to tell people that I no longer drank. As has often been the case, I fretted more about what people would think than anything else. In the end, I decided that being upfront and honest was the only way. After all, having depression or choosing not to drink is not something to be ashamed of.