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 Order

The steam rises in soft plumes out of the chipped ceramic coffee mug while the thin napkin, folded just so, absorbs the first drops of condensation beginning to journey down the side of the hard-plastic water cup where the square cubes of ice seem to joust for position.

Johnny studies the sturdy plastic menu with an intensity usually reserved for things of much greater comport than the overwhelming selection of egg and hash-brown combinations pictured. Melissa twirls her pen over the yellow pad, “Melissa” isn’t really her name but the faded tag had been carelessly left behind attached to the uniform shirt her manager had tossed her way that first day seven months ago and she had never bothered to change it. She had long settled on answering to hey girl, you, or just about anything else – Melissa would do.

“I think I’ll have the ham and cheese omelet, grits, and raisin toast dark,” Johnny finally intones carefully replacing the menu in the metal brackets next to the napkins, bottle of Texas Pete and stacks of foil jelly containers. It was a serious decision he thinks to himself, everyone knew breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

Melissa nods with equal seriousness, “Yes sir coming right up,” she answers not bothering to write it down, Johnny has ordered exactly the same meal every morning since she started, and who knows for how long before that. “Ham and Cheese plate, grits on the side, raisin well,” she hollers at the cook…

Memories from a Georgia Cotton Field…

The bracken and small trees have overgrown the banks and begun to cover the top of the berm if you look closely you can still see the glint of steel tracks embedded in the coarse grass, the creosote ties have splintered and rotted no longer holding the rails in tight straight lines. The cotton fields extend on either side for hundreds of acres the red Georgia dirt baking in the late September sun – the bolls now dry and brown have split, their sharp claws clinging to the silky puffs loathe to give them up. The memories of a lonesome steam whistle mingle with the sharp cracks of the whips and the soft moans that linger in the quiet stillness of a fading afternoon.

Adelaide wipes her brow with the back of a hand, her mahogany skin’s a crisscross pattern of scars and creases never quite healed from the hundred sharp cuts the bolls inflict – the shadow of the overseer approaches and she bends back to her task hurrying forward hoping to avoid sharp sting of the leather through her thin cotton dress. She steals a glance over, Billy still lay where he had fallen, no amount of whipping was going to raise him up and they’d left him as an example to the rest of them, the men would bury him later but not now no now was for pickin’ 200 pounds didn’t come easy the second time through a field.

The green machines lumber along voraciously scavenging the white puffs in front of them, small strays play across the ground in their wake as they march forward. Along the tree line long bales wrapped tight in plastic keep the cotton from escaping, large enough to fill a tractor trailer they wait patiently for the long bed trucks to carry them onward. Gone are the picking bags, the cotton baskets at field’s end, the crack of the overseer’s whip – but the cotton remains and the soft glint of a steel track – and the memories of another day…

Author’s Note: I was traveling through Georgia this past weekend, past many a cotton field and old train bed… they spoke to me of times long past, but not forgotten.

Wonderin’

I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
Got Tom Petty playin’ the stories we could tell

I cant find the words to splain the way I’m feeling
And I don’t know how to stop starin at the ceiling

So the tears fall and the memories keep flowin’
And there aint nothing for it but to keep goin’

Cause I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
While Tom Petty’s playin’ the stories we could tell

Reflection on impermanence…

It can be hard to see from inside ourselves, but your life is your masterpiece and yes we are only fleeting and embody the very essence of impermanence, but in that short time we create, oh do we create and those creations have the power of permanence, they influence, they are love, hate, joy, sorrow and each one leaves a mark on those around us… that small ripple multiplies, its passed on and becomes part of the collective consciousness of those we interact with… so don’t focus too much on the moment for it is only that – a moment, but take solace in the masterpiece that you are…

Thoughts on Irma – The Aftermath

*This is a five part piece – I encourage you to start with “Thoughts on Irma #1” and read forward… JC 

It’s been three days since Irma turned North and hit our little town dead center, about half of us have our power restored, a few stores and restaurants are opening back up, but normal still seems a fair bit off. There are long lines at the few gas stations that have fuel and those that fled early are unable to return for fear of running out before making it home. On every street the steady whir of chainsaws fills the air from dawn till dusk and the scent of fresh cut wood is inescapable. The piles of limbs and brush line the avenues and side streets, growing in stature as the once mighty oaks fall to the blade, some as much five or six feet across having seen hundreds of years – now lie dead in the unblinking sun. Leaves cover the ground and streets like fall in New England – an unexpected blanket of green.

As evening approaches folks start to return to their homes, grills are fired up, candles lit, and the rhythmic chatter of a generator punctuates the still air. It’s hot and humid, the air lies heavy and still – not even a hint of breeze as if the wind had exhausted itself earlier and now is slumbering somewhere far from here. It’s not quiet but the sounds are all different, no TVs, no music, even the traffic has disappeared – they have been replaced with the hoot of a hunting owl, laughter from a few doors down, the tireless chirp of the lake frogs, and the stray bark of a lonely hound.  News is exchanged on the sidewalk and the interaction of neighbors harkens back to an earlier and simpler time.

Life is already moving on, the inescapable pace of today’s society can’t and won’t wait for our emotions, anxiety, understanding to catch up. It’s going to take time to fully process this experience, we talk about it – sharing the memory, the feelings, coming to grips with this brush against our mostly ignored mortality.  Today we hung the pictures back up and moved the porch furniture back into position – symbols of normalcy. The electric is back on – something we celebrate with embarrassed restraint as there are so many still waiting. Tomorrow will bring a trip to the grocery store to replace the provisions that have spoiled in the unforgiving heat and life’s mundane routines will begin reasserting themselves.

I imagine it will take weeks to fully restore all power, services, and cleanse the landscape of wreckage and in that time we will exchange our stories of that night and come to grip with our personal lists of would have, should have, could have – but the reality is our psyche will only allow a tepid remembrance lest we live on trapped by the understanding of our insignificance.

Thoughts on IRMA #4

Dawn is finally breaking – grey streaks begin to penetrate the darkness. The wind is still present, but reminds me of the summer thunderstorms of my childhood, not the incessant fury of last night. I am sure analogies will abound today – our 24 hour news media trying to convey the experience and those mavens of disaster over at The Weather Channel with their hundreds of campaigns under their belts explaining to us just how it was. I understand, but the reality is so much different than their LL Bean protected forays into the “heart of the storm”.

It would take pages and pages to capture what last night was like – I honestly can’t imagine what a CAT 3, 4, or 5 might be like. The wind and rain had picked up its intensity around midnight, I hadn’t contemplated it being able to get much worse than it was – I lacked context, but that’s no longer the case. We lost power around 1AM about the time the eye wall was approaching our town, our neighborhood, our house.  You see on the TV it’s just a dot on a map, but the reality is it’s the four walls and the person next to you – and the fury and ferocity isn’t directed anywhere else – its personal.

The battering gusts of wind had been coming in waves for what seemed like hours, each subsequent rotation with increasing intensity – until it all blended together into a singular focused battering ram, which is when the power went out creating all consuming inky black. I understand with much greater clarity now the destructive power of wind like this – it’s an unstoppable force – there is a constancy that is maddening in its consistency. I think that may be the most difficult part to deal with emotionally – the simple fact that at the height of things there simply is no break, no where you can escape to, no way to stop it – and it is everywhere for hours…

We lay in bed in the dark holding hands, I’m not ashamed to say it was terrifying – if the power of nature doesn’t intimidate you – well you simply haven’t been paying attention and the arrogance of humanity has penetrated your being. The winds song is the background beat, the bass track if you will it sets the tone for everything else. Now layer in the creaks and groans of the house – you truly have to experience it to understand, but it seems like it is going to come apart around you – the percussion of blowing transformers, falling trees and debris clattering off the windows round out this symphony of destruction that has no intermission. We exchange fitful attempts at sleep finally settling into a semi-conscious state that seems almost dreamlike.

I must have drifted off at some point, because the winds had died down and the windows were no longer rattling, greeted by the soft grey of the coming dawn I began to fill the coolers with whatever food could be salvaged from the fridge and freezer hoping the ice would hold us long enough for the power to come back. Its already getting warm and the day promises no escape from the heat and the unblinking sun that is Florida in the summer. I’m already missing my morning coffee and the prospect for a cold glass of ice tea is pretty bleak. Soon the calls and text messages will come in earnest from those scattered all over the country waiting to hear that all are safe, the check-in with local family, friends and neighbors will follow shortly after. It may take days or even weeks for some to return to normal – air conditioning, carefully manicured yards, the erasure of impending anxiety – but the experience can’t be expunged – the greater understanding of how truly insignificant and powerless we are as mother nature decides our fate with no concern for our opinion or preparation…

Thoughts on IRMA #3

The weather started deteriorating around noon today as we watched Irma come across the keys and head north toward us. The benefits or modern technology, weather radar, social media and the wall to wall news coverage is obvious – prepare, prepare, prepare – but on the other hand nothing ratchets up the anxiety like watching the slow march of an inevitable disaster. No question being informed and prepared is the better option, but it takes an emotional toll. The calls, texts and messages from friends and family continue to pour in, they are watching the same coverage we are – geography goes out the window at times like this, Florida is a big state – but we live in Florida and that’s enough.

A couple of interesting observations today though: it’s a strange experience taking down your pictures, wrapping them in plastic and boxing them up. Backing up your computers, debating what to pack and store in the center of the house and what to leave in place. It’s like moving but being told you can only take what can fit in three or four boxes and oh we are leaving in six hours so hurry up. Then there is the network of folks that develops around you in these situations, the folks you know, long time friends, and neighbors – all of us sharing in an experience none of us would have willingly chosen to be part of, but the “check-ins” and messages of support go a long way toward dispelling that feeling of isolation being locked up in your house creates.

I took a walk around the house late this afternoon between rain bands, checking and rechecking – wishing I had tightened that gutter up, probably should have trimmed that tree back – an inner monologue of should have dones, too late now to do anything about, it will be what it will be. A final check with the kids, “are you sure you don’t want to come stay here?” They have their own homes, pictures, fears, and plans – I understand but still wish they were here so I could know for sure they were okay. My two boys on the West coast stay in constant communication, I’m sure worried and feeling helpless to do anything.  The family has decided on hourly updates via group text, it’s a poor substitute for having everyone together, but measurably better than not knowing.

Dark has fallen now, the wizards at the Weather Channel are discussing whether there is an eye or a center of rotation – neither choice changes the forecast of 100MPH winds in the next few hours. The wind and rain have picked up substantially and you can’t avoid the eerie whistle and staccato of the driving rain against the windows, the shadows cast by the streets lights undulate through the windows strange patterns cast by the wildly swaying trees. The band of storms is moving so quickly the thunder seems to roll across the horizon from right to left creating a strange symphonic effect. The thought of this elevating in intensity is disconcerting, but the experts say the worst of it should be here within the next few hours…

Remembering 9/11

I have been meaning to write a follow up piece on 9/11 for many years, but I honestly somehow never seem to be able to properly capture how I feel about it, but I am going to give it another try this year.

It was October 2001 and I was flying back to Tampa after attending the memorial for my cousin Gary when I first tried to write down how I felt about 9/11, he had last been seen on the 92nd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I watched that tower come down on television not knowing he was working there, but knowing I had family and friends in the city. If you grew up in NY or NJ the Trade Center was the very symbol of the City, it towered over everything, casting a shadow into the very consciousness of those who lived there.  I had been in those towers as a boy with my Father, and had attended a number of business meetings there as an adult; to see them in ruins I honestly was unable to wrap my mind around it. That was a difficult time, my kids were young and didn’t really understand the magnitude of what had happened, my Uncle Ray and his family were deep in their grieving, and the smoke was still rising over the NYC skyline as I flew home that chilly October afternoon.  We had begun to rally together as a country, but there was a palpable underlying anxiety as well, soldiers patrolling airports, the constant crush of media coverage and the feeling that things were never going to be the same.

We have all come to know more about the events of that fateful day than any of us probably care to, the fingers have been pointed, the conspiracies debated, wars continue to be fought over it, governments overthrown, and even some Old Testament justice delivered by Seal Team Six, and in spite of it all I still miss my cousin.

So sixteen years later I still wonder why, was anything really accomplished on either side, how many must we kill of theirs, how many need to be beheaded by this latest incarnation of radicalism and in the end will any of it really matter? I think we all know the answer as this supposed war of faith has been raging for centuries with no abatement in sight and no real answers either.

For me the very saddest part of this is that we all believe what we believe but somehow that isn’t enough for any of us, we feel obligated to propagate our belief system as the superior form of faith, philosophy, or even denomination and these beliefs of ours in their most radical form require the conversion or extinction of those that don’t believe as we do. How it’s possible to reconcile this with any positive interpretation of spirituality escapes me.

Many of my friends and family have visited the 9/11 Memorial, they say it’s a special place, a solemn place, that the spirits walk there and I am sure it’s true, but I have not visited. I want to, I have even made my travel reservations, but something holds me back and although I am sure I will eventually make it there and I will close my eyes and speak with my cousin we will share a laugh and the memories of long ago, but not yet, no the sadness is still too deep, too real, and the loss has not faded to a point where I can face it yet. So, till then I look at the pictures, listen to the stories of those who make the pilgrimage, and I miss my cousin.

Author’s Note:

I am posting this a day early as we are expecting to high winds and loss of power as #IRMA enters the Tampa Bay area later today and tonight.

9/11

Written on 10/29/01 on a flight from Newark, NJ to Tampa FL

Although it has only been a little more than six weeks since September 11th time plays on my emotions, some days it seems as if it were yesterday and others as if many months have passed. Even so, the memories do not seem to fade. In many ways, the whole series of events did not seem real as it unfolded across my TV screen. I guess a part of me is still trying not to acknowledge the broad ramifications of that day.

I watch my children as they laugh and move past the news of the day. I wonder what unforeseen impact this will have on their young lives. My daughter, seven and still full of a precious innocence, struggles to grasp what it means that so many people lost their lives for no apparent reason. I sense their confusion when I struggle to hold back tears.

This weekend I brought the family with me to New Jersey. A trip that would normally be filled with anticipation and excitement was subdued and anxious. It wasn’t just that we were attending my cousin’s memorial, Gary was last seen on the 92nd floor of WTC Tower II, but I was struck by the lost innocence of America. Soldiers at security check points, a mixture of fear and suspicion in my fellow travelers, a sense of anxiety blanketed all of us.

As I sit next to my daughter on the flight home, I play back the past few days. The fierce determination of my Uncle Ray to be strong for his family, he is a rock to hold onto. A man who has worked hard for more than forty years earning his living every day as an integral part of the fabric of this country, now strangled by emotions that are impossible to understand and harder still to control. My cousins desperately trying to come to terms with the loss of a big brother and best friend. I see Gary’s friends and co-workers, some survivors themselves, as they slowly parade through the day. Somehow, I feel outside, watching a filmstrip that doesn’t end and can’t be stopped.

I remember Gary and I growing up together, weekends at our Grandmother’s, and his visits to our farm. We were like brothers, but now that seems like a lifetime ago. I watch my children play with his daughter Jessica and I wish I had made the effort to stay close, to have found a way to reconnect with him as adults. My uncle and I desperately try to catch up the years, but with only a few brief hours, it is difficult. I feel a gentle reassurance though that this family will find its way through and will gather again unto each other. We have lost so many in the past few years. My Mother, Father, Grandmother, and now Gary. As we hold each other close, I believe we all know that we can no longer afford the assumption of tomorrow. We have paid the price of our apathy and it is dearly heavy.

This morning I drove to the city with my family. I pointed out where their grandfather had grown up, and then Ellis Island where their Great Grandparents arrived from Italy. I looked upon a skyline that seemed strange without that unique character that is New York. I can remember as a child crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn on the way to Coney Island with my father. I would stare in wonder at the Trade Center Towers as they stretched above the skyline, today nothing but a smoky haze. I searched for a way to describe how wrong it all seemed.

As I travel, home I realize that I had hoped to bring some closure with this trip. I understand now how impossible that is. I find myself settling for tacit acceptance that some losses just can’t and shouldn’t be erased. With this acceptance comes a clearer understanding of the responsibilities I have to both those I hold dearest and those who have become a part of my life.

Those of you who know me well understand the passion I approach life with. I now have a new found vibrancy and respect for those moments we all share and the experiences that are waiting for us. I look forward to catching up with my family and growing to know new friends. I take a moment to pause and savor the unique wonder that is life. I can’t fill the loss of my cousin or those who perished with him, but I, for one, will not squander the gift they have given me, the renewal of an apathetic spirit and the rekindling of a passion for life.

Author’s Note:

I am posting this a day early as we prepare for the assault of #IRMA – locally we are expecting 100MPH winds and loss of electricity for 3 or more days…

Thoughts on IRMA #2

Today is about final preparations and second thoughts. There is a palpable anxiety in the air now and folks are more openly questioning their decisions. Should we have purchased a generator, what about boarding up our windows, is it too late to head North. The unfortunate reality for most is that these decisions are no longer viable and items are simply not available and even if they were the time for this level of preparation is diminishing quickly. We are probably 24 hours out on serious weather, much too long to contemplate should have, would have, could have, but not nearly enough time to rationally shift your strategy. The challenge now is to stay occupied double and triple check everything without giving into the fear and anxiety that accomplishes nothing beyond paralysis. The calls from family come in earnest now, the posts and messages from friends rain down on FB: “keep us posted, come visit, you stayed?, we’re praying for you… have you heard of Zello?”

We have secured our house as best we can, unfortunately we are in that group that didn’t board up windows when we probably could have and should have. The storm track continues to show minor fluctuations but barring some large shift we are looking at 100+ MPH winds early Monday morning. Fortunately for us we do not live on the coast and will not have to face the storm surge that seems to continue growing. I spent some time on my back porch this afternoon, its stripped of everything that could possibly move, I watched the trees swaying from the early gusts – forewarning of what’s still to come – it’s a beautiful day. In the background, a cacophony of meteorologists drone on barely repressing the glee in their voices. It’s not so much that they are happy about things, but adrenaline is clearly driving them at this point.

It’s a surreal experience watching this beast on TV, the sun shining outside, kids playing in the neighborhood, the mundane debate on what to have for dinner – pork chops won. At some point you have to turn it off and take a break it’s too exhausting. FB is no better, the updates from local friends and co-workers read like a litany of final farewells while those you know in the rest of the states continue to post pictures of vacations, kids, college football and everyday life – the contrast is stark – further accentuated by the feeling of impending doom that is filling every corner. Look around, every room is filled with something precious a memory, family heirlooms, your favorite chair – what if it all goes away overnight? No don’t give in to that…

My granddaughter shoves another Oreo in her mouth smiling, “PaPa Joe walk me” she grabs my hand and leads me to the couch – “Bubble Guppies PaPa” it’s a welcome break from the reds and yellows of the radar graphs. We share some cookies and she dances to her favorite songs, it’s a sweet moment – a reminder that life isn’t about things – even precious things, but about those moments we share with the ones we love. She is two and has no inkling about what the next few days hold and that’s perfect; would we all were a bit more innocent and carefree in the face of those things we can’t change.  Chin kisses and PaPa hugs for those are the things I love; she heads home with my son and his wife, only blocks away, but still somehow too far.

It’s late now the wind has picked up a bit, but it’s still a beautiful evening as my wife and I take a “night drive” around town. Most everything is closed up tight, not the Waffle House of course, but most everything else. We cruise around the lake that our neighborhood surrounds, a brief stop in the middle of the street to exchange greetings with a lone police officer making his rounds, when did they start hiring so young I wonder to myself. He bids us a goodnight as we drive in opposite directions neither of us with a firm destination, waiting, waiting, waiting…