How can I miss you if you won’t go away?

You ever get tired of yourself?

We all get tired of constantly being around other people. Not always or often, but occasionally we need a break from even the people we love most in life: our spouse, our kids, our best friend. And it’s not just one or two of them at a time it’s all of them all at once!

Nobody’s doing anything wrong. I still love you all, you knuckleheads, but still, sometimes I just get a bit weary. We all do. I’m no psychologist but I’m absolutely sure that it’s normal and healthy and nothing to worry about. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Or, as Dan Hicks put it in his song by the same name: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

Have you ever wondered how you can go through your entire life without feeling that way about yourself? bored

Geez! Everywhere you go all day, every day, there you are!

When you go to bed you go with you. When you wake up you’re still there.

Every single moment of your life you know everything you’re thinking and everything you’re going to say before you say it! Doesn’t that make you just a little crazy every once in awhile?

You understand yourself better than anybody else. You talk to yourself but you never, I mean NEVER, have a disagreement. You like the same foods, watch the same TV shows, laugh and cry at the same things and you love the same people.

The one thing I almost never do is surprise myself. And that’s a drag.

I swear, sometimes I just need a short break from me. I need to send myself away or take a short vacation and be somebody I never met before. Or, be nobody at all just for a little while.

If you know me personally, admit it, the thought of being with me 24/7 for 64 years is unimaginable, right? Sure it is! You couldn’t do it, so why should I be expected to?

I know what you’re thinking. Both of me assures you emphatically I am not having a break down or bordering on being dangerous to myself. I love every moment of life.

I love me!

Still, sometimes I begin to have a thought and then cut it off with, “Yeah, I know. — Whatever.”

Ever feel like that?

“… and it does the rest!”

I swear to you, this is a true story. I’m telling it with no embellishment, exactly as it happened not five minutes ago.

You think advertising isn’t effective?

It’s 6:13 on a Saturday morning. I know that precisely because I was starting my coffee maker and it has a clock on it.

Seven-year-old Isaiah appears, rubbing his eyes and telling me he sprained his groin while sleeping.

I don’t know. I didn’t ask.

A moment later he’s in our TV room as usual for a Saturday morning but instead of cartoons I hear something that sounds like an infomercial. I expect that to change to Spongebob Squarepants momentarily but it doesn’t. It’s too loud. I go into the TV room and ask him to turn it down. He does, but he still doesn’t change the channel and he is transfixed on whatever he’s watching.

“Isaiah,” I say, “why are you watching a commercial for a floor sweeper?”

“It’s a very good floor sweeper!” he explains, with a great deal of animation. “It’s very lightweight and with the Haan© steam cleaner you just add water and it does the rest!”

As the dogs are my witness.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

The parakeet story

Everybody has a true life story or two which need telling, if only as a soul-cleansing confession. Here’s mine:

Some years ago Carolann and I agreed to take care of a parakeet for our friends while they went on vacation.

I know what you’re thinking; I thought the same thing: who needs baby sitters for a bird? You clean the cage, leave plenty of food and water and then go on vacation without giving the bird a second thought, right? Of course I’m right.

The thing is, our friend Tim (not his real name) had inexplicably fallen head-over-tiny-little-claws in love with this bird. He taught it to sit on his shoulder and play with him and to take food from his lips. I’m pretty sure that Tim would have taken the bird to bed with him at night but for fear that his wife, Susan (not her real name,) would roll over and crush the little guy.

Tim loved that bird completely, selflessly and without qualification and for that reason we felt a huge weight of responsibility for its well-being, as much as if it had been a human child left in our care.

But, still — one small bird in a small cage. How much trouble could that be?

Well, I’ll tell you…

We had three cats at the time so we wisely put the parakeet cage in a spare bedroom with the door closed tightly. Or, so we thought.

One day we came home from someplace and discovered the spare room door open, the cage on the floor with its door open, and a few horrifying feathers scattered here and there.

No sign of the bird.

After some frenzied searching and to our indescribable relief we found the parakeet literally trembling on the floor in a corner. Miraculously he had survived by scurrying from the terrorizing lightning pursuit of one to three monstrous cat demons, each a hundred times larger than himself!

You can just imagine!

Making cooing, soothing noises and with words of quiet reassurance we further terrified the little creature by picking it up and gently putting it back in its cage. We gave it fresh food and water just to be sweet, closed the door and left it alone to cry into its pillow and gather its wits.

An hour later the bird was dead.

Heart attack brought on by residual stress, or so they tell us.

Carolann and I were mortified. Tim and Susan would be home within a day or two and we had just murdered their baby.

What should we do?? Think!

And of course we reached the only reasonable solution to the crisis:

LIE!!!

We put the dead bird in a small paper bag and drove to a pet store. Honest to God, we did. Nerves jangling as if we were first-time shoplifters, we entered Jungleland and tried to act nonchalant.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“I hope so. Look…” (Opening the bag.) “We need a bird that looks exactly like this.”

I don’t remember if the girl looked at us quizzically or if she choked down a nostril-rattling guffaw. Maybe she did neither. Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time in pet stores, I don’t know. In any case, I didn’t ask and volunteered no explanation.

Miraculously, she found a dead ringer (so to speak) for our deceased charge. She netted it, we exchanged our lifeless bird-in-a-bag for the lively, but nervous, bird-in-a-box. We paid the cashier fifteen bucks plus tax and like Lucy and Ethel we hightailed it back home accompanied by a nervous laugh track and suspenseful bumper music.

“WAH-WAH-WAH-WAAAAAHHHHHH…”

Fade to commercial.


Tim and Susan returned from vacation happy, relaxed and refreshed but Tim was very anxious to hold his baby.

Carolann and I, shameful deceivers we had become, managed to hug them with warm smiles and, you should pardon the expression, give them the bird.

We held our breaths for about a week when Susan called on the phone and mentioned to Carolann, as if it were a passing thought, that the bird was acting peculiar. He didn’t seem as affectionate as he had before; seemed to have forgotten his tricks; wouldn’t sit on Tim’s shoulder; actually pecked at him!

We collapsed, Carolann confessed and we are both going to Hell.

Tim and Susan were stunned but held their disappointment as best they could. They didn’t chastise us and though it has never become a funny memory for us to laugh about over dinner and a glass of wine, they have continued to be our friends, albeit at some safe distance.

I think Godparenting their two sons is pretty much out of the question.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Am I blue?

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” — Will Rogers

Summer days in the Sacramento Valley are scorchers. Back in the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up we didn’t have air conditioning. Nobody did. Our home had a swamp cooler on the roof directly over the hallway to the bedrooms, adjacent to the kitchen. The hallway had a gray tile floor. Not nice ceramic tiles, just the cheap asbestos tiles that came as standard equipment in a 12-thousand-dollar house.

Asbestos, of course, causes cancer but since we didn’t know that at the time, none of us got it.

On summer days, I could generally be found lying on that cool, cancer-wreaking floor, bare-footed and bare-stomached, reading Little Lulu and Sad Sack comic books directly beneath the huge hole in the ceiling and the water-dripping blast of air from the swamp cooler above. It was cool, the floor was hard, but I was seven. As nice as it was I couldn’t lie there all day.

Eventually I would wander outside and run through the sprinkler to cool off. Then I’d look around and see if anything interesting was going on.

They didn’t charge us for water in those days and we apparently had more than anybody needed. We’d leave it running all day, soaking the front yard and pouring like a river into the gutter, down the street, into the drain and who knew, or cared, where from there — just in case we wanted to run through the sprinkler.

Sometimes we didn’t. But the water ran, just in case.

I know that sounds like wanton criminal behavior now but at the time we thought no more of leaving the water running than we did about smoking cigarettes in church or the grocery store. Our dads spent a couple of hours each evening talking with neighbors, all the while washing the dirt off the driveway with the hose. Water was water as air is air. We had all we needed. Nobody hassled us or tried to make us feel guilty or threatened to fine us for using water. I guess it just hadn’t occurred to them yet.

One day I wandered into the garage where my dad was fiddling around.

My dad loved to putter in the garage. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. Now that I’m older and thinking with some perspective I’m wondering if maybe he was just bored to death and puttering was nothing more to him than lying in the dripping hallway with Nancy and Sluggo comics was to me.

Sometimes Dad would work on the car but most of the time he just puttered. What else was there to do? The TV only had three channels and unless it was time for The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports there was nothing to watch in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

(Channel 6, the educational channel, had seemingly nonstop French lessons which I thought was pretty cool but my dad was from the World War II era and in no mood to learn French.)

So, on this particular day Dad was puttering in the garage, as usual, painting something blue with a spray can. I don’t remember what he was painting. That’s actually the definition of puttering: finding something that would look or work better with a minor, thoroughly irrelevant “improvement” that nobody else would likely notice or appreciate.

When he was just about finished spray painting whatever it was the paint can neared the end of its cargo and began to sputter. Dad shook it mightily but it would only spit a blob of blue here and there while farting useless blasts of aerosol propellant (which didn’t cause cancer but, in our blissful ignorance, was obliterating the ozone layer of our atmosphere and destroying life on Earth as we now know it.)

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Never one to waste a drop of paint, my thrifty dad grabbed the ever-handy churchkey on his work bench, gave the can one more good shake just for the hell of it, and punched a hole into the bottom of that fourteen-ounce rocket.

It took off like a Kamikaze woodpecker with a firecracker up its ass!

That paint can flew around the garage with the thoroughly chaotic and mindless pattern of a balloon released before being tied off.

That can had more paint left in it than Carter’s had pills.

By the time it landed the can had spent its passion, smiling weakly, surprised and yet victorious at its expense.

Everything in the garage was spotted blue. It all looked like a three-dimensional Rohrshach inkblot.

I was blue from head to tummy to legs and toes.

The garage floor and walls were blue. The ceiling was blue. Our lawn mower, camping gear, boxes of Christmas tree ornaments and all the weird, useless crap that doesn’t have a place and no certain use, but which you can’t bring yourself to throw away…it was all blue!

BLUE, BLUE, BLUE!

I don’t remember what I thought of it all but I do remember Dad.

His glasses were spattered blue, as were his nose, ears, lips and the cigar stogie on which they were still puffing furiously.

Our beautiful collie, Rusty, still lying sedately at my feet, was blue.

Mom wouldn’t let us in the house.

Well, it’s not that she wouldn’t. She just couldn’t. She was incapable. After Dad rapped on the sliding glass patio door for her she dutifully responded, saw us, immediately assessed the situation and collapsed in a helpless heap of rubbery-legged hysterics.

Dad fumed, snuffed out his blue panatella, grinding it into his expensive self-poured concrete patio with a blue-spotted flip-flop

Eventually, Mom was able to regain the use of her legs, find the floor and unlock the door. Snorting and giggling she followed Dad’s instructions, taking a gas can to the filling station and returning with a full of “regular” gas so that Dad could scrape the blue off of every square inch of our bodies.

The toxic, cancer-causing (these days) fumes of fully-leaded gasoline nearly killed us in the shower.

We all survived that day and even my darling, now-departed Dad was eventually able to recount it at family holiday dinners with a smile and a rueful shake of his head.

But these days, as Mom gets older, I avoid the story altogether lest it send her to join him beyond the pale.

Copyright © 2010 by Dave Williams, all rights reserved.

The loving “ism”

Racism; deplorable. Sexism; unacceptable.

Ageism; adorable.

I recently annoyed some friends in an email chat group by expressing my irritation at the proliferation of jokes about old people. They think I’m overreacting. It’s no big deal, people have always made fun of old folks, right?

People still tell race jokes, too, but at least we know that’s disrespectful and wrong.

Look at what I just found at a website called “Old People Are Funny.”

If an old man falling on an escalator is funny to you, go ahead and close this window and go to that site, instead. It’s a damned giggle fest.

Black birthday balloons! Hoo-hah, how funny is that?

Look, I know it’s mostly in good, innocent fun and we should always, at all ages, be able to laugh at ourselves. It’s not that. No, what gripes me is the fact that many people, maybe all of us eventually, buy into the notion that getting old means we’ll be doddering, slobbering, laughable old fools. So, we simply assume the role, sit down in the rocking chair and watch the world pass by without so much as waving to it.

The jokes take us by the hand and lead us there

And, it’s not even the jokes that bother me as much as the allusions to how “cute” old people are.

I just received an email that had a link to a video of an elderly man and his wife playing the piano together. They weren’t doing anything amazing. They weren’t playing Flight of the Bumblee in rounds and different, harmonic keys. They weren’t playing the notes with their noses, toes, elbows and tongues. They were just playing a little tune together. Isn’t that cute!?

Why? What’s cute about it? If these people were in their thirties or forties instead of their eighties it wouldn’t be adorable. Nobody would have turned a camera on them in the first place.

I simply think we should treat old people the same way they were treated when they were young adults and middle-aged. Give them the same respect we afford people we take more seriously. Judge them by the content of their character and the wisdom of their years rather than the number of them.

And, by God, when an old person is being a pain in the ass, unload on ’em! Don’t give them a pass because of age.

It’s hard to text a sigh.

I know I’m being silly. Well, I don’t think it’s silly but I know a lot of people do. And certainly, part of my concern is personal and yes, I am offended at the idea I will soon be marginalized by stereotypes. Please don’t ever refer to me as a “senior citizen” or some other gentle euphemism. I will simply be old and wear my age as a badge of achievment, thank you.

I will laugh, I’ll converse as intelligently as I’m able and I’ll keep writing as long as I can. But I won’t be cute, okay?

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

“I have diabetes.”

Isaiah King, age 5, 2008

While shopping in Target the other day our five-year-old grandson, Isaiah, told his grandmother and me he needed to go to the bathroom. I took him into the men’s room and waited while he finished his business in the stall. After washing his hands we went off to find my wife.

“Nana,” Isaiah told her earnestly, “I have diabetes.”

The British have the best description of the confused look Carolann and I gave each other. We were, as they say, “at sea.”

We had no earthly idea what he was talking about.

“What do you mean?” Carolann asked.

“I had to go potty real bad,” the five-year-old explained. “I have diabetes.”

My wife and I stared at each other blankly for another moment or two until, as the Brits also say, “the penny dropped.”

“You mean you have DIARRHEA?”

Carolann said this. I was too busy trying to choke back a guffaw that was leaking out my nose as barely stifled snorts.

“Yeah. Diarrhea.”

Then, in the spirit of Art Linkletter she issued a follow-up question. “Do you know what diarrhea is?”

“Yeah. That’s when it’s all flat.”

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Lessons of the heart: Bob Rodness

I don’t know for sure what got me thinking about Coach Rodness. Maybe it’s just because it’s April and as you have heard, in spring every young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love — love of baseball. Well, that’s true of old men, too. At least for those of us who played the game with a feverish passion many years ago and can’t quite get it out of our hearts.

But I don’t think that is why I suddenly remembered my high school baseball coach. 

Today I told my youngest son something that sparked a synaptic link to a memory from my self-glorified past.

My son has recently had a spat with his wife. It has gone on for several days and is making both of them miserable. Having “been there, done that” (one of the greatest colloquial phrases ever adopted into American lexicon) I have grown weary of it and I told him, simply, “You love her and so do we. Make your peace with her.” It was just that simple. Dad had spoken. “Fix it,” I told him.And suddenly I realized where I had heard that calm, persuasive voice before.

Bob Rodness was a physical education and baseball coach at Highlands High School in the Sacramento suburb of North Highlands in the late 1960s. I was a skinny kid who could hit a little, couldn’t run worth a damn, but played baseball like nothing else in the world mattered because in my world at that time it was true.

 One day in P.E. class we were playing softball. Keep in mind this was the spring of 1968, right around the time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was a time fraught with racial tension and fears that we Northern California teenagers of the moment had trouble assimilating into the limited observations and half-baked philosophies of our very young lives. From our shortsighted perspectives it seemed the world was divided into colors and you took your side, you had no choice. We knew it wasn’t as simple as that, of course, and we knew that segregation and bigotry were wrong by definition and by moral imperitive, but we were too young and inexperienced to make sense of such worldly confusions as racism, assassination and, not coincidentally, the war in Vietnam.

We who grew up in the sixties need to look upon those events as the vortex to the psychological confusions that haunt us even now.

Back to the softball game…

I was pitching, a black kid I didn’t know was the batter. For no reason whatever he began taunting me in a mean, angry way. I don’t pretend to understand the world through his eyes, not then or now, but he was mad. He yelled a lot, I said something back and the next thing I knew he was on top of me, pummeling me for no reason at all other than the fact that I was on the opposing team and I was white and skinny.

Imagine something like that happening today. We would have both been hauled into the office, for starters. Police would have been called. No doubt both of us would have been suspended or expelled. It’s entirely possible that felony charges would be filed against one or both of us and dueling lawsuits would be launched. We’d be front page news and a community would divide and take sides.Lives could have been ruined for a minor scuffle between a couple of dumb kids.

What actually happened forty years ago was Bob Rodness. He simply yelled at us, “Knock it off, you guys!”And we did.That kid went back behind the plate, I threw the ball and he hit it. I don’t remember where or how well he hit it. The story was long over by then. The game continued, the period ended, we went on to our next class and forgot about it.

Admittedly, that was a different time in a naive world entirely alien to us now. But some things stick in our psyches forever.“Knock it off, you guys.”That’s essentially what I told my son today: “This fight with your wife has gone on long enough. It’s stupid.” The end.

But here’s the Bob Rodness story I really want to tell you, not because it made any lasting moral impression on me. Though, it might have, I just don’t know yet. I just love the memory of this:

Some fifteen years or so after graduating from high school I was a volunteer tending the exit gate at a music venue during the world-famous Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. In those days volunteers were allowed, indeed encouraged, to drink and make merry as they performed their duties. I took the encouragement to heart.

Two beautiful women in their twenties approached the exit gate requesting entrance to the party. I informed them nicely that they would have to wait in line at the actual entrance gate. But gosh they were pretty, and I was nicely toasted. We got to chatting and as we did an older couple approached my gate. With one arm around each of the beautiful young ladies, a large beer in one hand and cigarette dangling from my mouth, I heard the girls exclaim in unison, “HI, DADDY!”It was Coach Rodness and his wife. And even though it had been fifteen years or more since we had seen each other he recognized me.

He sized things up quicker than I did, threw his head back and laughed the unstained laugh of the pure and pious as I whipped my arms away from his daughters, dumped my beer in the nearby trash can and stepped on my cigarette.I expected him to order me to run laps but he just kept laughing until tears were streaming down his face.And yes, I let the entire family enter through the exit.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved