The Dream

chocolatepuppy

The man’s son is 11 and dreams about a puppy.

He tells the man about his dream one morning. The man is drinking coffee before work, paging through a magazine. He pauses on the perfume ads and traces beautiful people with his eyes. His hair sticks up and his stubbled beard is gray.

His son says, “Every night I dream we are looking at puppies. One of them loves me so much and wants to go home with me. Then I ask you and mom if we can keep it, and you say yes and then I’m so happy. But then I wake up and I realize it was just a dream and I say ‘Oh’, and I just have to get up like every other day.”

The man nods his head and turns the pages of his magazine. Beautiful people have found blue water and sunshine; they put their hands on each other with their eyes closed and they have never known loneliness.

He looks, then, at his son. The boy is smiling, still tuned to the joy of the vision even though there is no puppy and he’s perched here with the man on the cold gray granite surface of this day. How much should he tell his son about what is to come? When is the time to start breaking his son’s heart, just a little, for his own good?

He turns a page. Beautiful people kick water into diamond droplets with the sunshine in their eyes.

“I’ll tell you, son,” the man says and his son’s eyes grow wider and hope flares in them like a beach fire, “that is a good dream.”

Chairs

Cameron had his own easy chair in the front room. It was covered with a wool blanket. Nobody else ever sat in that chair, but it was always as if he were sitting there, anyway. His spirit had taken command of that chair. Old people have a way of doing that with the furniture they end their lives sitting in. — Richard Brautigan, 44:40

There was the chair in his study upstairs. Surrounded by books. Piled on the floor, piled on the desk, bending the shelves. To us it was for spinning. Round and round. A winter merry-go-round. Faster, faster, the room a blur, til we were so dizzy we stood and fell sideways across the sloping floor.

There was the one in the living room in front of the TV. The black leather recliner surrounded by pipes and tobacco pouches, books on the floor there too, watermarks on the side table from the highball glass. Bourbon on the rocks with the evening news. Here we lay on his chest when we could not sleep, breathed the warm smells of him with the sounds of Kojack and Columbo and Rockford in one ear, his breathing, his heartbeat in our other.

There was the chair that started the argument. Too big. Too ugly. Brown, teddy-bear soft, a fat throne for the king of the room. That chair started badly, but from that chair he read to us. And soon it was not his chair alone. It was Frodo’s chair, Gandalf’s chair, Bigwig’s chair. Huckleberry Finn, The Mad Hatter, they sat there too.

Sitting in the mother-in-law’s recliner on Mercer Island, WA he read his own future from the Seattle Times. Atomic veterans. Cancer. Thirty years after exposure. I sat on the floor beside the chair, listened as he read the article. I watched him as he ran the numbers on himself: Twenty-four years at that point.

There was the chair at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Green pleather in the shadow of an IV stand. He drove himself to sit in it. But after the IV bags emptied into his blood, he still had the pride, but not the strength to drive himself home.  I had a learner’s permit then. I took the wheel.

Then another brown chair. Fat recliner in his study in the house beside the bay. That chair didn’t match the décor, but no one cared. It was chosen for comfort and hope against hope. The chair never moved, but he slid away. That was the last chair.

This Post Is Not About Baseball

Edgar_1

The Seattle Mariners baseball club has been terrible for nearly all of forever. But in 1995 they had a moment. They broke through, made it to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. Yesterday our local sports channel replayed one of the playoff games from that exciting season. Fifty-six thousand seattlites crowded into the Kingdome — now 14 years a pile of dust — and collectively held their breath as the Mariners fell behind, clawed back to tie, then won on a line-drive Edgar Martinez home run.

As the ball sailed over the centerfield fence the crowd screamed, then roared, then bounced, then hugged, then roared, screamed, danced and hugged some more. The camera panned across the pandemonious throng. Kids, grownups, old people. All agape with wonder at their team’s sudden reversal of fortune. They danced. They danced. They danced.kingdome

That moment is over now. Almost twenty years gone now. And the people in that crowd who shared that day: the kids are all grownups, the grownups are old and the old people are dead.

Brief Thoughts On Failure

I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying -- Michael JordanIf you push yourself beyond all previous limits, strive to achieve more than you’ve ever tried to achieve before, drive yourself to take on those complex challenges that frighten you and, in so doing, fail, still you have succeeded. If you stay within safe limits, take on only those challenges that you know you can handle, demand of yourself that you try to achieve only those things you’ve achieved before and, in so doing, succeed, still you have failed.

By this standard, I’ve been succeeding a lot lately…I’m proud of that…

In Aisles

Grocery Store Aisle(flash fiction, 989 words)

My wife points out marriage should be a partnership. “This home is not, in fact, your castle,” she says. She thinks it best I start with an unskilled job. She gives me grocery shopping. There I am one day at the Safeway, studying the list she’d given me. I’m asking the cashier, “TP? She wrote TP. You know what that means?”

The cashier, pretty girl, blinks. Then I hear behind me this big, gravel voice: “That’s toilet paper, you dumb shit!” I look back and there’s old Tom Wilson with a full cart and his wife’s list too.

“Toilet paper. I should have thought of that. Where’s that going to be?” I ask the girl.

“Up your ass if you use it right,” Tom says. He’s laughing. The girl turns bright red – her cheeks, down her slender neck, even the pale skin of her chest peeking from the collar of her shirt. She smiles and points to aisle nine. I get out of the line and old Tom Wilson rolls up and starts emptying his cart. He’s got a handful of coupons.

“Tom,” I say, “You’re one efficient old gal. Your husband must be proud.”

The girl laughs. Tom flips me the bird.

“Let me know if you need any more help,” the girl says.

“I learned to drive a tank in the army. I think I can do this,” I say and I roll out toward aisle nine.

But it is harder than I thought it would be. There’s too much to choose from. I see the brand they put on TV all the time, but it’s pricey. Then there are the less-expensives, but I don’t know about the quality and my wife’s particular. Some of them have flowers printed on them and I’m not sure I want to go that route.

“Are you finding what you need?”

I look and there’s the cashier girl next to me. She has both hands up behind her head, refixing her blond hair into a ponytail, and that lifts her shirt up above the top of her skirt and I see her slim waist. She’s close and I smell a perfume on her skin, but it might be the smell of bread from the bakery. Either way it’s warm and soft.

“My wife didn’t say which one to get.”

“Well, this one’s on sale this week,” she says and she pulls down an eight-roll pack. “It’s usually the most expensive one.”

“Sold,” I say. I take the package and drop it into my cart. “What’s your name?”

“Samantha.”

“Samantha, maybe I need you to shop for me all the time.”

“I’m here every Wednesday through Sunday.” She reaches out and puts her hand on my forearm and smiles when she says that. She is sunshine and birdsong and then she’s walking away down the aisle, her ponytail swaying as she goes.

I volunteer to go to the supermarket after that. Two, three times a week I’m thinking of something we need.

“Hamburger? Let me run down to Safeway. No tinfoil? I don’t mind going. Ammonia? Mop head? Rutabaga? I’m on it.” I say hi to Samantha every time I’m there; she’s sweet to me and she smiles that smile and I always tell her I’m lost without her. We get to talking. She’s nineteen, starting at the college. She wants to be a forensic accountant. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds beautiful when she says it.

I know I should be questioning myself by this point. I’m nearly three times her age. But damn it, she smiles at me, she leaves what she’s doing when I come in, she goes with me around the store. And I am somebody with her. She sees me. Before Samantha, no one had seen me for years. I had been my wife’s husband, there beside her, turning gray, becoming invisible. Before Samantha saw me, I thought I was my wife’s imaginary friend.

I wasn’t looking, but we found each other. That’s how it is with love: it burns out one place, it will spark up somewhere else. You can’t predict; you can’t question. Just be grateful.

Then one day, after weeks of this, my wife wants to make a kielbasa stew. I have the shopping list. Stew ingredients and other things. I think I can make it with just a basket, but there’s so much vegetable my basket is full before I get to anything else. I need a cart. I go to the front of the store. I’m looking for Samantha as I go. She’s usually here, but I don’t see her.

I get to the carts, still looking for Samantha, when there’s a rumbling from the parking lot. I look through the big windows and there’s old Tom Wilson rolling up on his Harley Davidson. There’s a girl on the back and I know before Tom even stops that it’s Samantha. She swings off the back, pulls off her helmet and her blond hair plunges out. They’re talking, she laughs, he kisses her hand and she bounds toward the door while he shuts down his bike.

The door swishes open and in she comes still smiling and says “Hi, Charlie,” like nothing’s wrong.

I’m smacking my gums, standing there with my vegetables in a cart and my shopping list quivering in my hand.

“Are you finding everything you need? You look lost again.”

I look down at my list. I pick an item at random just to have something to say that isn’t about her and Tom Wilson and what might be going on between them.

“TV,” I say just as Tom Wilson struts in the door behind Samantha. “She wrote TV and I don’t know what that is.”

“Tender Vittles,” Tom says. “It’s cat food, asshole.”

“That’s it,” Samantha says. “Aisle 15. Do you want me to show you?”

“No,” I say. “I know where it is.”

Tacos Are Not Writing

Sometimes I drive around eating tacos from drive-up windows and convince myself that I am writing by thinking about what I will write when I am done with my tacos and I go back home and sit at my desk again. But I’m just fooling myself. Tacos are not writing. Tacos are delicious. But tacos are tacos, thinking is thinking. Only writing is writing.

This Is My Paul Newman Story*

Paul Newman at Camp Korey, 2007

Paul Newman at Camp Korey, 2007

In 2007, my company, Allyis, donated time to maintain and host the Web site of Camp Korey, one camp in Paul Newman’s network of SeriousFun Camps. Because of that, in June 2007 I was invited to attend a grand opening event at Camp Korey that Paul Newman himself was going to attend.

I was excited by the prospect of being in the same room with acting legend Paul Newman – Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy, Henry Gondorff from “The Sting”. I was a Paul Newman fan and I’ll admit, though by doing so I’ll reveal just how shallow I can be, it was the prospect of meeting Paul Newman more than the camp opening that had me excited that morning as I drove out to Carnation, WA.

The truth is I imagined that Paul Newman was going to spend time with us personally to thank us for the work on the Web site. I’d have a chance to shake his hand and tell him I admired his films and then act really cool and nonplussed by his celebrity, which would in turn make him admire me because, “Dammit, if there’s anything I hate its people who treat me like a celebrity and not the real person I am” he would think to himself.

When I got there the room was much bigger than I’d expected and there was a horde of media and a couple of hundred people taking seats on folding chairs in front of a stage. I was confused. How was Paul Newman going to grant a private audience to me and the rest of the group from Allyis in a setting like this?

The program got underway. Dignitaries and muckity mucks began filling the chairs on the stage – there was King County Executive Ron Sims, former Governor Gary Locke, the camp’s board officers, a couple of folks I didn’t recognize. And, sitting at one end of the stage, looking small, unassuming and, frankly, more like an old man than I’d expected, was Paul Newman. Others on the stage were wearing suits and ties, Newman was dressed in a white sweater and baseball cap, aviator sunglasses perched at the end of his nose.

Before Newman spoke, though, there were others. One, the father of Korey Rose, the boy after whom the camp is named. Korey died of cancer at age 18 and his father dedicated himself to making the camp a reality in his son’s memory. Then there was a man who, as a child, had attended one of Paul Newman’s camps in California. He explained what a life changing experience it was, as a kid who spent most of his time in hospitals, to have the chance to go to camp like a “normal” kid. In a place where every kid was a sick kid, suddenly nobody was defined by their illness. They were just kids for that week, doing what kids do at camp.

I was beginning to realize by this time that this event was not about celebrity.

And then Paul Newman got up and walked to the podium. On this day that had started, in my mind, defined by Paul Newman, focused on seeing Paul Newman, all about Paul Newman, I now understood it wasn’t about Paul Newman at all. It was about the kids that would come to this camp. It was about kids who were suffering more pain and sadness than most of us ever encounter having a brief chance to experience joy. It was about a father seeing his dream come true and succeeding at something that perhaps healed some of his own pain, that perhaps made him feel connected to the boy he had held, had cherished, had worried over and had lost. It was about growing out of that pain and finding the strength to help others find their own strength.

The day wasn’t about Paul Newman at all. And Paul Newman knew that better than any of us. At the podium for no more than 3 minutes, I’m sure, he said “thanks for supporting Korey’s dad.” He said “every kid deserves the chance at least once to raise a little hell and just be a kid.” He said something about having “too many Budweiser suds” clouding his thinking. And then he said, with that Paul Newman gravel in his voice that sounded like every cantankerous character he ever played, and with a dismissive wave of his hand: “if I have any kind of legacy it won’t be for any movie I ever did. It’ll be for these camps.”

Then he nodded and he sat down.

*Forgive me. For this is recycled content. I wrote this in 2008 shortly after Paul Newman died and posted it on a blog I no longer maintain. I thought that blog was gone forever, but a friend told me she had come across this online and liked it. That made me reconsider it and so I decided that I want to keep it with me. Since this is the blog I now maintain, I’ve added it here.