INNER SPACE

_____________________

It’s too loud

Nature of the beast

No one in, no one out!

What it’s worth

More than I can pay

That’s not how I feel

Throw out the old

Bring in the new

Keep what you find

Cross at the light

There’s no originality

Don’t pick up that penny!

Keep the pump primed

Flights of fancy

Soar higher and higher

That’s not real

Stay out-of-the-way!

There’s no escape

Exploring inner space

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DOGGIE DIALOGUE, KITTY CONVERSATION

I grew up in the rural Midwest and had a menagerie of pets.  I loved Hugh Lofting’s story about “Dr. Doolittle,” resident of Puddleby-on-the Marsh.  I envied his ability to communicate with animals.  There were several movies about the beloved doctor–including the Eddie Murphy one.  I’ve asked all my friends about the “Pet Psychic.”  None of them ever heard of her.  What was troubling Fido or Fluffy?  Sonya Fitzpatrick, the purported “Pet Psychic,” revealed all on her “Animal Planet” show.  Maybe I was one of only a few dozen viewers?  The “Pet Psychic” is still in business, giving advice to the rich and famous.

“Did you have a busy day?” My mother asked her pet goldfish.  I thought she’d gone completely ’round the bend.  It was just a goldfish, Mom.  …Swimming all day in circles.  What kind of day could it have?  I talk to my dogs Max and Maggie.  I go beyond the usual “Sit” “Stay” “Down” “Off the furniture.”  Do my dogs understand?  I think they do.  Scientific studies would say otherwise–if it matters.  …Mere conditioned responses.  My dogs associate my words with certain specific actions.  For example, “Bye-Bye,” means car ride.  “Treat” is self-explanatory.  They wake from a dead sleep for treats.

I don’t know what I did before Max and Maggie came along.  I most likely talked to myself and grumbled more.  High priced psychics aren’t necessary, for me to know, they’re glad to see me.  When I talk they act like they’re listening–which is better than most humans.  They’ve got me trained.  Scratching on the door means they want in or out.  A cold nose pressed against my leg means more food.  There are barks for strangers and friends.  Are my responses conditioned?  There’s a lot to learn from talking to animals.  Yes, I talk to animals, don’t you?

STRINGS, DREAMS, MEMORIES

One Montgomery Ward acoustic guitar, circa 1963…Slightly bent tuner…Missing pick guard screw…Chipped neck bridge…Various nicks and scratches…Less than gently broken in…Value as an antique?…Not much…Wrong pedigree.  Why hadn’t I thrown it away?  Its former lustre was replaced with a patina of dust.  Two broken strings lay to the side.  Squeezed out by my three newer guitars, it was relegated to the attic along with other surplus items.

This old guitar was purchased with money earned during summer vacation.  …Mowing lawns, farm work, doing odd jobs.  My half, split with my brother, was seventy dollars.  That was a lot of money in those days.  Everyone else in my family played an instrument.  My father played baritone saxophone in high school dance band.  My mother sang and played piano.  In elementary school I was tested for musical aptitude.  Marginal ability–was what the man said.  How could he tell from my “squawks” and “screeches” on various band instruments?  What were music lessons for?

My dream was to someday be a competent musician.  There it was in the latest Montgomery Ward catalog–a western flat top acoustic guitar.  It would soon be mine.  Two weeks seemed like a long time to wait.  It finally came.  I held it and admired the beautiful satiny sunburst finish.  Just holding it was gonna’ make me look good.  Many of my friends broke their first guitars.  They twanged and banged away until there was nothing left.  How could they do that?  This could be the only guitar I would ever own.  I vowed to make the best of what I had.

I couldn’t play much at first–sat for hours picked notes, played a few simple chords.  It was mostly fantasy.  Maybe I’d become a rock star or folk artist?  My next door neighbor, Eleanor, played guitar.  She gave me lessons, taught me how to break in new strings.  Her Gibson “F-Hole” arch top guitar was beautiful.  I had a short attention span and found it more fun to play chords than read music.  Friends taught me how to play “odds and ends” of popular songs.  My friend David, from church, taught me the “Peter Gunn” TV show theme, the lead from “Wipeout,” and Ray Charles’s “Wha’d I Say.” David was killed in a tragic accident before the Christmas of ’64.  It put a damper on my holiday spirit.

I learned basic major and minor chords.  …Simple songs with typical three-chord pattern.  Songs I really wanted to play were beyond my grasp.  For example, “Rescue Me,” by Fontella Bass.  Tuning my guitar and keeping it in tune was basic, but important.  I tuned my guitar using the piano.  Later I purchased a simple pitch-pipe.  My guitar went along to social events:  hayrides, church socials, and parties.  On a hayride, I fell out of the wagon, along with my guitar.  I wasn’t injured.  One of the tuners got bent.  A screw from the pick guard got lost.

My younger brother, Jerry, shared my guitar.  Jerry turned out to be the most talented musician in the family.  Along with nicks and scratches, the guitar neck warped.  The strings were too far away from the fretboard.  This was one of the reasons why my fingertips got sore.  My brother adjusted the neck several times.  Later, I put on nylon strings.  My guitar sounded good to me back then, because I didn’t know anything different.

Owning a guitar, was my attempt as a shy kid, to be more popular.  It gave me something to talk about.  Musicians had commonality with other musicians.  After my Mother’s passing, I inherited some of her music books.  The songs were also arranged for guitar–over the years, I’ve mastered most of them.  Playing these old songs reminds me of her.  I recalled her singing “Mairzy Dotes” and “Swinging on a Star.”  Mom always liked “Deep Purple.”  April Stevens and Nino Temple covered the song in the sixties.  I know it brought back memories for her.  I still tend to like romantic ballads.  Where did those days of innocent romance go?

I’ve gone on to my fourth generation guitar.  I still can’t forget guitar number one.  It’s part of my heritage.  There are many memories of family and friends represented.  The only appropriate way to let it go, would be passing it down to someone in the family.  I was inspired to go further.  My reasons for playing have changed.  Now, it’s for enjoyment and relaxation.  I’ve played in small informal ensembles.  I like feeling the emotion expressed in a written piece of music.  There are now two, not yet published, songs I’ve written.  I aspire to someday write a romantic ballad.

WOOF, WOOF! Barking Frogs Ahead!

WOOF, WOOF!  It couldn’t be.  Were my ears deceiving me?  Was there a large ferocious dog trapped in the storm sewer?  I started to walk away, but curiosity got the better of me.  Patiently, I waited and listened.  WOOF, WOOF!  There it was again.  The noise came from the tiniest of tree frogs.  Amplified and resonated through the storm sewer chamber, meek croak became loud “bark.”  How could something that small make such a loud noise?

*************

I’m here

I’m me

I’m not afraid

I’m little, but mighty!

Don’t just walk away

I’ve got something to say!

Paragon or paramour

Ready for love, ready to fight

Here all day, here all night

Come out when the time is right

Spring flowers, summer showers

Can’t you feel my awesome power?

Small voices carry big messages!

RV MANIA

Recreational boating enthusiasts spoke of something called “Three Foot Itis.”  The same syndrome applied to RV owners.  Your present twenty-six footer was adequate, a twenty-nine footer would be better.  The rationalization–more room and the extra length wasn’t any harder to pull.  I tried in vain to hide my “Newbieness.”  It came out the first night with a backing accident.  A spruce tree limb reached out and “touched” my shiny new trailer.  Humbly, I went to my insurance agent, and submitted a claim.  A bitter lesson compounded by my leaving on vacation that same weekend.  Duct tape provided a temporary fix.  At my destination, ants seemed to have an unusual attraction to duct tape adhesive.  RV’ers should take note.  They had no problem finding the patched holes.  Armed with a spray can in each hand, the battle was on.  A shakedown local trip was recommended for the first outing.  I didn’t need any “stinkin” short trips.  My first trip was eight hundred plus miles.  …Danger! steep learning curve ahead!

With a twenty-five gallon fuel tank, stops were frequent.  At two hundred miles, a gas station needed to be in sight.  Strong headwinds, sent the gas gauge needle into a rapid descent.  Crosswinds and passing large trucks buffeted both tow vehicle and trailer.  Roads patched with tar strips set the rig into motion.   This elongated “jiggling machine” made my muscles sore.  Outside mirrors were rendered useless by vibrations.  Low clearances needed to be watched.  Stops and starts required advance planning.  Sixty miles per hour was my chosen cruising speed.  This relegated me to the slow lanes.  Now, I was one of the slow vehicles everybody despised.

There were most of the comforts of home.  …Air conditioning, heating, hot and cold pressurized water, Bathroom with tub and shower, and master bedroom.  Outside was an attached rollout awning.  These niceties required extra precautions and maintenance.  The most obvious were the holding tanks–separate for fresh water, wastewater, and soapy water.  Set up and take down took between thirty and sixty minutes.  Only when everything was set up and levelled could I sit back and relax.  By then, I needed a nap.  It was a big change from former days of tent, tent trailer camping.  Awnings were for fair weather only–a lesson learned the hard way.  Sudden windstorms damaged two of my awnings.  In an early summer morning incident, a violent windstorm whipped the extended awning.  My wife and I scrambled to retract it.  The wind got under it and like a giant sail, lifted both of us off the ground.  The canvas wasn’t torn, but one of the support posts was bent.  In another windstorm the trailer  nearly tipped over.

A hazardous “near miss” happened years later.  I’d “three footed” up to a twenty-nine foot trailer.  It towed and tracked nicely.  My vehicle had been in the shop repeatedly for an unusual noise in the rear axle.  No trouble was ever found.  On Easter weekend in ’94 we headed south for a week’s vacation.  For a head start, I drove part way Friday afternoon.  The first nights stop was planned at a campground inside the Tennessee state line.  That left time to finish the trip the following day.  It was close to four in the afternoon–we were almost there.  There was an aroma similar to kerosene.  An unusual whining sound emanated from the back of the truck.  When I exited the interstate and turned left, the inside tire squealed.  I unhitched the trailer and set it up.  Inspection revealed a sprayed oily substance covering the entire undercarriage.  The warranty assistance person advised me not to drive the vehicle under any circumstances.  A tow truck carried my crippled vehicle to the nearest dealer.  Since it was Easter weekend, the earliest repair appointment was Tuesday.  I begged and pleaded with the service department.  Meanwhile, we spent quality time  with our two grandkids, ages three and six.  It was cold enough at night to run the furnace.

A manufacturing defect in the rear axle caused fluid to leak out.  The gears became overheated to the extent they welded together.  Things could have been much worse.  The service department associate told me, if I hadn’t stopped, it could have been catastrophic.  …Axle separation, coming out of the housing.  The result, loss of control and a horrible accident.  Thank God it didn’t happen.  Better to be a few days late and safe.  We reached our destination the following Wednesday.

It had to be the shiniest, most beautiful thirty-six foot RV ever.  Were there bigger and fancier models?  If so, I hadn’t noticed.  It was the star of the ’99 Winter RV Show.  It had three big picture windows near the entrance door.  …Built-in satellite dish.  There were two slide outs, one for the living room and kitchen, one for the bedroom.  Room? there was an abundance of room inside.  A floor to ceiling entertainment center decorated the front wall.  The capper, it had an island kitchen.  …A curved breakfast bar with three stools.  It called my name in the worst way.  We had informal open house for a week after it was delivered.  It was our home away from home at a private resort for four years.

After retirement, I realized beauty came at a price.  The first time I towed it, the weight shocked me.  Fully loaded it weighed twelve thousand pounds,  That was an astonishing six tons.  My tow vehicle was overmatched.  It took forever to start and  stop.  My truck engine needed all of its 345 horses at four thousand RPM to pull hills in Tennessee and Alabama.  A surprise gust of wind caught me in North Alabama.  The whole truck and trailer shifted to the left lane.  My life flashed before my eyes as I fought to regain control.  The swaying stopped and I somehow survived.  I pulled into a rest stop to light a cigarette, (I don’t smoke), say some Hail Marys, (I’m not Catholic), rinse my face with cold water, and compose myself.

The thirty-six footer was our home for eight months.  Hurricane Ivan altered our plans to build a new house.  Over time the RV seemed to get smaller and smaller.  There were little irritating things.  The heating and cooling system only took the edge off.  In the dead of winter, the maximum inside temperature was sixty-three degrees.  During the hot, humid Gulf Coast summers, the bedroom didn’t stay cool.  A box fan in the hallway seemed to help.  Supplemental electric heaters tripped breakers.  The propane tanks needed refilling every five days in the winter.  Trailer park life was less than ideal.  I was accustomed to a quiet, subdued life.  Hurricane recovery workers caroused till the wee hours.

My “Three Foot Itis” was cured.  My attention turned to our newly constructed home.  The trailer sat vacant in a storage lot for four years.  Southern sun faded the paint and trim.  It was no longer insured.  Severe windstorms could turn it into a worthless pile of match sticks.  The inside still looked good.   In a quest for better mileage, my towing vehicle was sold.  My former beauty became a burden.  I sadly put my RV up for sale.  A retired gentleman bought it for himself and his dog.  My RV “love affair” was over.  I had no desire to camp ever again.

DIRECTIONS

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If I only had what I wanted

What did I want? I didn’t know

If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you

Arrows, directions, prismatic dreams

Remarkable vagueness, familiar themes

Glass castles, fancy houses

Mighty winds, prancing horses

Prayed that I might be spared

But I really wasn’t there

That was everything I should know?

I really wasn’t finished, though

Where I’d come from

Was not where you’ve been

What was good for me

Was not good for him

How did I get from here to there?

If I was here, I wasn’t there

If I was there, I wasn’t here

Did anybody have a mirror?

I was beginning to get scared

Things weren’t as they appeared

There was no happily ever after!

She said to me with raucous laughter

With good intention, she also mentioned

Good advice, never take advice

From talking somnambulists

And, of course, pantomime horses!

GREETINGS & SOLICITATIONS!

It was the summer of ’67 after my first year of college.  My buddies, Keith and Paul recruited me for a summer sales job.  “Had I lost my mind?” That’s what I expected my father to say.  Dad didn’t say what he was probably thinking.  I gave Mom and Dad my best sales pitch.  …Unlimited income potential, endless opportunities!  They seemed to stifle their enthusiasm well.  With their blessing, I had the opportunity to succeed or fail.  My spirits were high as we set out from college on a warm June day, bound for Nashville, Tennessee.  We travelled through southern Illinois in Keith’s trusty black and white ’58 Ford sedan.  Warm air buffeted  through the open windows and smelled of dried river bottom mud.  At Cairo we crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky.  Somewhere past Jackson, Tennessee we picked up Interstate 40 eastbound.

Things were all hunky-dory until about one hundred miles from Nashville.  At that point, the fuel gauge needle pointed below one-quarter full.  We immediately engaged in spirited debate.  College students weren’t known for good judgement.  How much money did we have?  More than enough to buy a tank of gas at thirty cents a gallon.  Maybe the gauge was wrong?  Why not just press on?  Did we even need to refuel?  Maybe we could coast to our destination?  My opinion, offered freely, was to stop and refuel.  Why take a chance?  I was quickly overruled.  “These cars still had two or three gallons when on empty.”  They could write that on our tombstones when they found our decomposed bodies on the side of the road.  Another forty miles went by and the old Ford sputtered to an abrupt stop.

Cars and trucks whizzed by at seventy-five miles per hour.  …Another discussion.  Who was going for gas?  The only fair way was to draw straws.  Naturally, I got the short straw.  Was there no justice?  Why couldn’t the risk takers get the gas?  It was their idea.  It was a hot, humid, miserable walk.  A mile and a half up the road an old green and white ’54 Chevy screeched to a stop.  The driver called out, “Hey, y’all run out of gas?” I was thinking, No, I walk this highway every Sunday afternoon for my health!   Instead, I answered, “Yeah, a ways back.”  “Hop in, I’ll give you a ride.”  “There’s a Chevron station three miles down the road.”  I didn’t have anything to lose at that point.  He was a chubby, red-faced fellow that liked his liquor.  Today was no exception.  The smell of booze was overpowering.  I wasn’t looking to be buddy-buddy with him,  just wanted some gas.  I let him keep the deposit.  Some of the guys didn’t like it–they owed me for my trouble.

All was forgotten as we arrived at our destination.  Our home away from home was a vacant girl’s dorm at a local university.  We were indoctrinated on positive thinking and sales techniques.  One of the suggested techniques was to entertain people.  By week’s end, I knew I could conquer the world.  …My sample case and order forms at my side.  Surely everyone would be interested in bible and medical dictionaries?  If not, there was my stand-by–the family bible.  …Explain the benefits, cover durable, easy to clean, family heirloom.  Chattanooga, Tennessee was my sales territory.  I couldn’t wait.  My adventure continued the following Sunday.  Where would we stay?  There were four of us–none of us had much money.

Our plan of action was to attend evening services at a local church.  Maybe someone would come to our aid after hearing our plight.  We found a large Methodist church on the north side of town.  After the service, a nice lady offered an apartment in the older part of the city.  It was reasonable, so we agreed to rent it.  It was a large two-story house converted into apartments.  Our apartment was on the second floor.  There were two beds and a naugahyde sofa.  College kids weren’t particular, so we slept on mattress covers.  We didn’t have electricity.  An extension cord powered our only lamp and toaster.  Working seventy-two hours per week, we wouldn’t be there much.  Sundays were reserved for sales meetings.  The place was hot and stuffy–smelled like stale cigarette smoke.

My part of town was called East Ridge.  The other guys went across the state line to Georgia.  I knocked on doors.  Not many people would talk to me–especially at seven in the morning.  Sometimes I knocked on twenty doors before being invited in.  The words of my trainer came back to haunt me.  “Clown around, entertain people, jump over hedges.”  It was so blasted hot and humid, I didn’t feel much like clowning around.  The pattern continued for two weeks.  Some people slammed doors in my face.  The only bright spots were lonely people who took pity on me.  One woman invited me in for sandwiches and lemonade.  An elderly couple gave me ice cream.  Thank God for lonely senior citizens.  I took advantage of opportunities.

In my first two weeks, I sold a bible dictionary and a medical dictionary.  My commission was about ten dollars.  It took two weeks to receive a commission check.  The other guys were in a sales slump.  The third week would be tough.  We had one loaf of white bread, some butter and a half-pint of milk.  It was hard to work on an empty stomach.  Sunday’s sales meeting in Marietta, Georgia was a welcomed break.  Maybe they’d have refreshments?  Traffic thickened as we approached the city.  One of the guys suggested a rousing game of “Chinese Fire Drill” to pass the time.  At each traffic light we disembarked from the car, ran around it a few times, got back in before the light changed.

This continued through several intersections without incident.  An alert city patrolman got wise to our ruse.  He pulled in behind with red lights on.  He looked the car over and walked up to the driver.  This was ’67, era of racial unrest, Vietnam war demonstrations, and we were out-of-state college students.  How would this end?   “What in the world are you fellas up to?”  “Y’all trying to cause trouble?”  “No Sir.”  We answered in unison.  Charles, our driver and co-conspirator, attempted an explanation.  The officer didn’t buy any of it.  “You’re disrupting traffic and causing a public nuisance.”  That sounded serious.  “You got your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance?”  The officer found everything in order.  “Y’all from Illinois, (emphasized noise)?” “Yes Sir.”  We answered.  “We’re on our way to a sales meeting at one of the local Baptist churches.”  “Get to where you’re going and don’t cause any more trouble.”

Mid-week I ran into my toughest customer–someone bent on making my life miserable.  He was a former Chattanooga police chief.  He was about to demonstrate his authority.  “Who are you?” “What are you doing here?” “If you walk up on my front porch you’re trespassing.”  Why the hostility?  I explained I was a college student selling bible and medical dictionaries.  “You got a peddler’s license?”  I didn’t know what one was, much less have one.  He explained that he’d been the police chief and quoted the ordinance, chapter and verse.  My rebellious nature wanted to lash out, “used to be, didn’t mean now.”  Good sense came to the rescue.  He probably had influential friends.  “I ought to have your ass hauled to jail.”  That got my full attention.  “Now, get out of this neighborhood.”  Where was the wellspring of Christian charity?  It dried up, blew away like desert sand, replaced by steely eyed stare and square-jawed hostility.  I got defensive at that point.  “I didn’t mean any harm, just trying to make money for college.”  “And furthermore, why don’t you go back where you came from and get a real job.”  Peddler’s licenses were thirty dollars each.  I had three dollars in my wallet.

The next two days were spent repairing my shattered ego and wounded pride.  Like a wounded animal, I found a shady wooded spot near the interstate.  There wasn’t time for self-pity.  Something the old man said stuck with me.  There were easier ways to make money.  Manual labor looked good in comparison.  An honest days work traded for a decent wage.  Now, that was something I knew how to do.  My adventure away from home was over.  I called home collect to tell about my decision.  At the next Sunday’s sales meeting it was my turn to speak.  It had to be positive without revealing my plans.  “I had a rough week.” “That’s in the past.” “Next week is going to be much better!”  There was a round of applause.   I was happy too–because I was going home!

Dad was parked in front of the apartment when we returned.  I don’t know how many hours he’d been there with my brother.  It was dark and after eight o’clock.  We headed home early the next morning.  Our truck stop breakfast was one of the best in  memory.   It was good to be home.  In a couple of weeks I had a good job with respectable wages.  My failed venture was never again mentioned.   …No “I told you so’s.”  My parents knew I’d learned a valuable lesson.  I never again wanted anything to do with door-to-door selling.  There are still reminders.  A generation later, on a cold wintry morning, I attempted to jump-start my college age daughter’s car.  It cranked, but failed to start, because it was completely out of gas.  To this day, I never let my car get below one-quarter full.