Random musings…

Glad you stopped by… take a peek inside for a collection of short stories, social commentary, poetry, rants, and excerpts from current projects. Hope you enjoy your time here, check back often for new material and of course feel free to submit any questions or comments…

Author retains all rights to published / posted material – all posts are solely the work of the author

Joe

The 2019 Castagno Rant

I thought I would have a go at this “RANT” thing again, this the 25th or 26th one – hard to say, the early archives are incomplete,and does it really matter anyway? You would think after that many years I would run out of things to rant about, and in some respects you would be right. 

 

The early rants were filled with tales of children and the joys of parenting – followed by those perilous teenage years – I go back and read those just to remind myself how lucky I am to be here.  Times have mellowed though: grandkids, Starbucks, politics, texting, and general stupidity seemed to have taken center stage – some even accuse me of getting soft and losing my acerbic sarcasm – I invite them to come over and help me plant roses – no takers yet, strangely enough.

 

But now what? Another regurgitation of the year’s events, grandbaby drool stories, the horror of modern-day travel, drive-thru frustrations, why morons continue to text and drivewould that bring a smile to your face and have you nodding in sympathetic understanding? Ahh the comfort of tried and true rant material… 

 

Or would you rather hear how a text notified me at 35K feet that my older sister had suddenly passed – you know “passed” cause it’s so much nicer than died – maybe some details on her decades fighting opioid addiction until her body simply succumbed in a bathroom alone. Would it help to understand how it felt standing in her empty kitchen spooning her ashes from one big box to a number of smaller ones; the memories cascading like so many fine particles? No, I’m guessing not…  

 

So, by now a few of you are like… “holy shit he’s completely unhinged this year…” Well no actually but sooner or later we come to the realization that the accumulation of life experience forces a certain clarity. The sharp pinprick of this present reality if you will… The young have the pleasure of rushing headlong into that blurry and distant place those of us that have some years already inhabit, but once you’re here – if you haven’t started, it’s time to pay attention. 

 

It struck me on a night drive – Tammy and I take a drive every evening, grab a coffee, cruise around the lake, and catch-up on the day; something we’ve been doing for years – anyway, I realized I had started measuring things by how much time I might have left. Freaked me out a little I have to say – I have always kept a “list” of things I wanted to accomplish in life and ticked a few off here and there… we all have one and sure it matures with time and experience, but I had never really considered there might be an expiration date on some of it; sobering to say the least. I am pretty sure we all have these moments: the loss of a loved one or a friend, catastrophic events like 9/11 or a school shooting – all are milestone reminders… it’s the paying attention that’s important however. 

 

I am okay with the running out of time part  I am not okay with running out of experiences. It’s not as simple or cliché as living without regrets or the common refrain of “leave it all out there…” I want to make sure I love deeply enough; touch not only the hearts of my children, but their minds and spirits as well. Help strangers where I can, stand for what is right without regard for personal cost, and embody what it means to be a true friend. I want to breathe in clear cold mountain air, and feel the warm sun on my head as waves break against the shore… and I want to share all of this with as many as I can.  I used to believe life was about fulfilling some list of material accomplishments: job, money, stuff… but the longer I live the more I understand life is about the living. 

 

So, what does all that mean, you might be asking… and uhh not really a rant dude… I hear you, and don’t worry I still get irritated by the ass in the Prius that doesn’t know how to order at Starbucks – by the way have you tried the Peppermint Brownie cake pop? Oh my God! Or the fool that thinks it’s okay to pick out each individual donut in their two-dozen order at the Dunkin’ drive-thru. What about service animals that are not really service animals on planes, do I really need to go into this? Millennials with beards… not a good look young lady… How about not vaccinating all the little bio-terrorists running around, or making medicine you can’t live without unaffordable for most folks. You get the point, there is still plenty to rant about, plenty to make you shake your head and say $%@#$%@# (you know what that means right?). 

 

Admittedly, I still do most of those, but I have had some experiences this year, some realizations, and come to some conclusions that lead me to believe maybe all that really isn’t as important as I thought; and I may even be questioning the overall level of my response to these situations cause is that really how I want to use my time, my experiences… probably not. 

 

Unbelievable, simply unbelievable… dude just ordered a soy decaf peppermint mocha latte with two shots of espresso, extra whip and chocolate drizzle… I don’t care if he is driving an F250 that’s a bullshit order – get the F’ out of my drivethru moron!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays… and oh by the way – the middle part is the important part… 

 

Joe

 

That One Day…

The babies were finally sleeping having drifted off somewhere near the border, they had all cried together – but the little ones had succumbed to the steady thrum of highway driving and Kate’s tears had finally dried. She could still feel the clench of her heart, the heat behind her eyes and the salty residue on her lips – she tried to stifle the occasional snuffle so as not to wake Jack Jr and his sister Sally. 

She turns the Christian station, she wasn’t feeling very Christian though; she had been trying to be a good wife, following the rules and doing all the things a church wife was expected to do, but at some point, you had to wonder who had really made all these rules? They didn’t seem to serve Jesus’ purposes, but husbands like her Jack sure seemed to be enjoying things. She bites her lip holding her tears at bay – and no doubt a big “I told you so…” was coming from her father; but she didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

The memories cascade and there’s no holding back the tears, everything had seemed so perfect a loving Christian man, the wedding of her dreams, the perfect little home… when she had found out she was pregnant she had cried for three days. She didn’t have the heart to tell him she wasn’t ready; Jack had been so excited about being a dad. Then two years later the little boy he had really wanted. All of a sudden, she was trying to be a good wife, raise two babies on her own and hold down a full-time job; it wasn’t fair and it was too much. She had prayed, cried, called her mother twice a day and even tried talking to Jack; but here she was driving a hastily packed car down the interstate forcing herself to stay strong and not turn around. 

Of course, it hadn’t been just one thing, it never was, she had spent hours Sunday cleaning the house and preparing meals for Jack to take for lunch that week, by evening she had been exhausted hoping for a little attention or at least a hand giving the kids a bath and getting them in the bed. Why that night should be any different than most every other weekend she couldn’t really say, wishful thinking maybe. 

It had been the FaceBook post that had been the last straw, “out to lunch with my homies” had been the caption – why had she bothered? Opening the fridge, she pulls out a yogurt for the kids and sees the carefully prepared lunch – her post it note with “Love you honey” still attached. It had taken forty minutes to pack a suitcase and the kids into the SUV – she had left his lunch on the counter, maybe he would figure it out. 

It was four hours and a little more than two hundred miles before her phone finally rings. She doesn’t want to answer it, doesn’t want to talk to him – what’s left to say after all? On the seventh ring she can’t take it any longer and pushes the button. “Hey honey go ahead and eat dinner I’m working late okay?” She doesn’t know what to say, no how was your day, or how are the kids, or even a simple love you baby. None of that comes out though all she says is OK as she hangs up and the tears start again…

Authors note: 

This isn’t a condemnation of Christianity or Christian men, but it is a commentary on marginalizing people – especially the people that love you and make a real effort every day on your behalf – whether you acknowledge it or not. It is a statement on abuse – you don’t have to hit someone to harm them… and maybe the most important question: when is enough, enough? The preservation of one’s self-worth requires taking action on your own behalf – even if it means packing the babies up and heading down the interstate – physically or metaphorically… 

So, don’t be an asshole and hurt the ones that love you the most… 

Mortality

My mortality weighs heavy
every breath
every moment 
 
My mortality weighs heavy
Every note
Every word
 
Every joy sweeter
Every pain deeper
Oh my mortality weighs heavy
 
Every kiss lingers
Every tear stings
Oh my mortality weighs heavy

The Filament…

The days are fraught with equal measures of peril and opportunity for there is a filament that lies within the human experience that ties all things and all beings together. It allows the soul to absorb all that is beautiful, horrific, agonizing and uplifting. It transcends time, space, geography, prejudice, and understanding. It creates coincidence and allows for missed opportunity. It is a sharp intake of breath, an ache deep in one’s chest, an uncontrolled smile, and an unrestrained single tear. It is all that we are, all that we wish to be, and all we wish we weren’t… Excerpt from “Jake”

Destiny…

As sometimes happens in the universe a man may find himself on a collision course with destiny.  He may not be looking for it, and in most cases would undeniably prefer to avoid it at all costs. However, destiny is a force all its own and the whims and weaknesses of mortal men have no bearing on it… excerpt from “Jake”

Some “Jake” to go with your Molly…

…Jake wasn’t a great lover; too many hard edges and a complete lack of patience, but he had a simple sweetness about him that appealed to Molly. Somewhere inside was a little boy that just needed attention. She believed, like so many before her, that she could somehow love him enough to heal him. Jake’s troubled soul needed more love than Molly or anyone else for that matter could muster.  They quickly fell into a routine, Jake drinking too much, missing work, and promising it wouldn’t happen again… and of course Molly wanting to believe things would be different this time…

Some Molly – from “Jake”

… The bedside lamp throws a shadow over the far side of the bedroom as she clicks it out. Stretching, trying to fill up the bed, she turns over. It’s then she sees the soft silhouette on the dresser of Jake’s three shirts and two pairs of socks from the morning laundry. The flood of hot tears is unquenchable she can’t help but snuffle into her pillow – clenched fist in her chest trying to massage away a pain that can’t be fixed. While just short of four hundred miles North Jake cuts the engine and listens to the ticks and pings that normally sooth him; sucking on his cut lip he tries not to think about Molly… 

I saw a girl today…

I saw a girl today
Melancholy eyes of grey

With honey hair she played
A wistful smile relayed

Red to green displayed
And so she drove away

I saw a girl today…

Death by Addiction

Juls had a knack for making wherever she was elegant, fresh flowers, candles, handmade soaps – little touches that transformed common place to magical. I loved going to her home for a cup of coffee or simple meal she always found a way to elevate the experience.  It was never about showing off – money – pride – or some baseless motivation, it was a respite from the ordinary. The saddest part of my weekend was walking into her home and finding all the special things, the cups, plates, candles, soaps, an empty vase on the table… but the magic was missing – the energy that was my big sister. There was a haphazardness to it all, as if she had all the pieces but just couldn’t put them together – my sister died two weeks ago, but taking it in I realized she had been missing much longer. 

I spent the weekend sorting through the physical remnants of her life while trying to reconcile a myriad of feelings – anger, sadness, recrimination, and in flickering moments of honesty, relief. My sister didn’t die of an overdose, but the corrosive nature of addiction killed her just the same; you see not all addicts die with a needle in their arm or a carelessly spilled bottle of pills next to them. My sister died on the floor of her small bathroom… alone. I hope it was quick and painless, but I know that’s my selfish attempt to absolve the guilt dancing just out of reach… odds are it was neither.

I have heard all the platitudes – don’t be an enabler, addicts have to reach rock bottom, it’s a choice, helping is just codependency – I have parroted them oft enough myself and as true as these are… I have to live knowing that they are also a convenient excuse for apathy. I loved my sister, but I am faced with the reality that the physical manifestation of my love was clearly inadequate while it mattered. It was easier to insulate myself with these protestations than reach through her addiction and love her in a tangible way that may not have saved her, but would have given her some moments of happiness. I wasn’t able to change her addiction and at the end her death was just a reflection of her journey – but I should have made the effort anyway.  

There is a brutal finality to scooping ashes out of a simple box surrounded by those caring enough to be there… no what might be, could be, or should be – just a fine grey dust eddying into a series of smaller vessels – reminders of what once was. I have heard it said none of us escape alive, but whether that end is in a velvet lined box surrounded by friends and family or on the counter of a lonely kitchen consigned to a simple urn – the result is the same. There is value in the experience, in the loss, in the reflection, in the memories – not about addiction, death, or the physical remnants, but about love and the brief flicker of time we all share in this space…  

My sister was an accomplished artist among many other things, I found this in her bedroom – it speaks to me of transition… leaving life behind – the tree a metaphor for life if you will… it seems fitting in a melancholy whimsical way…

For My Big Sis…

It’s Thursday evening and I am reflecting on the project I just finished in Phoenix, my flight is going to be late getting into Dallas… which means another night away from home. Modern technology allows my phone to be connected even at 30,000 feet – I’m watching the sun set through the window of 6A when I receive the message that my older sister has died…

There’s no positive way to get news like this, no way that makes it easier to absorb, so I watch the sun set and whisper goodbye – I foolishly hope she was at peace, as if somehow that makes it better, changes something… 

When we lose people the tradition is to polish their lives up, make them brighter – better than they probably were – I won’t do that with my sister. Her life is who she was and I loved her no matter the season. 

Julianna was seven years older than me, for as far back as I can remember she was “Lani” a leftover from the days before I could pronounce her name. She was my big sister – introduced me to rock and roll, David Bowie, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, and the best of the seventies. She taught me about girls and nursed me through my first teenage heartbreak. When I moved to Virginia after our mother died she helped me get settled in a new home and city. It was her couch I slept on when my young marriage was falling apart and she encouraged me to work it out. Life took us in different directions and our relationship was reduced to holiday and birthday phone calls, promises to get together and reminiscing about the “old days”, but she never stopped being my big sister. 

They say not to speak ill of the dead… whatever that means, life is messy, complicated and … her journey was long, but I maintain worth the trip in the end. She explored life – the good, bad and the ugly if that’s not too cliché – a national level equestrian rider, a debutante, she eloped with a Naval officer at eighteen, lived free and hard all over the world, divorced and then started a new life. She loved the simple elegance of a vase of flowers, a properly set table, and the energy of a live concert. She was a mother of an autistic son and champion of autistic children’s rights, a business woman, artist, drug addict, but more than anything Lani was my big sister… 

Goodbye sis, I love you and I miss you… turns out none of the mess mattered in the end… 

Remember to hug the ones easy to love a bit closer and the ones hard to love even closer than that… You see when it’s done all you’ll have is the memories and as sweet as they may be it’s a poor substitute for time spent together…

Joe