Sunrise on the Bluffs (or “Beaver Snacks for All!”)

Eppley 1


Sometimes, things in Omaha defy common sense. Take the drive to the airport.

Driving east from the downtown Omaha area, the road careens northeast and suddenly, a sign heralds “Welcome to Iowa!” or some such thing. If you had a road map in the car, you would probably bust it out post haste because if you have spent any time at all in Omaha you would take pause. You have not crossed the Missouri River. Yet on the map, Nebraska and Iowa are indeed separated by the Big Muddy. Hm. You, however, have not crossed a river of any kind.

So you get out your Smartphone and look up Eppley Airfield and there it is. 4501 Abbot Drive, Omaha, NE. The plot thickens. Then, almost as quickly as the sign for Iowa sprung up, there’s a “Welcome Back to Nebraska!” sign. There’s not really such a sign. But seriously. WTF? Apparently because of a flood in 1877, Carter Lake, which is an oxbow lake, which is formed after a river changes course, was formed when the course of the Missouri redirected to where it is now. Fair enough. That solves that.

Council Bluffs was named so by Lewis and Clark. Actually, I don’t know if the name came directly from Lewis or Clark. Probably one of their party. But then again, maybe not. See, the thing I always come back to when it comes to the whole prospect of explorers is the sheer wonder that must have dominated the heads of guys like Lewis and Clark and Cortez and Magellan and all the rest of them. I know there was a lot of guys that did this kind of thing because in 6th grade we had to memorize the names and expeditions of all the world’s great explorers. And for Lewis and Clark, I imagine them seeing the Bluffs in the distance (probably the short distance because they are not very big) and wondering for half a second if maybe, just maybe, the Pacific Ocean was on the other side. They sent one guy to the top of the Bluffs after a hard day of exploring and this guy went up to the top, came back down and said “Nope. More grass.” Dammit. But hey, um, what the fluck is that?! they declared and proceeded to snare their first beaver.

But that point brings me to another one. Their party. In the Spring of 1805 when the Corps of Discovery set out for the West coast there were only 33 people including L & C themselves and a priest, Sacagawea and a French kid. Not a very large band of explorers and you gotta think that, considering the Frenchman was just an infant, most of the guys would just as soon left his crying little ass in a Big Muddy puddle and soldiered on. Anyway, the boys had heard there were some Otoes in the neighborhood and wanted to seek their council (Oh, I get it now) about how best to proceed.

Given my affinity for things both common and sublime, I looked out on the expanse of the landscape that is the Bluffs and appreciated the total experience one of those explorers had upon waking to that scene without all the advances of the years. And one thought came to mind:

What do you suppose that guy did in when he had to shit?

I mean, it must have been a perfect moment for reflection, looking out and wondering what lay beyond as a soldier sipped his coffee. And a short time later, I imagine that same soldier wondered where best to take a dump. I’ll admit, this has become an unhealthy obsession of mine since the first time I faced the prospect of the “b.m. in the rough.”  In 8th grade, one of the assistant coaches on my peewee football team told us that when you are playing offensive tackle or guard, you square down on the line of the scrimmage “like a bear taking a shit in the woods.” However, that may have been a very risky proposition on the Great Plains, what with waist-high switch grass and the ever-present possibility of one of those beavers jumping up and biting you in the ass. And in my research for this post, I learned that the Corps of Discovery reached the west coast with only one member succumbing to the perils of the journey. That probably meant that all but one of them got to Fort Clatsop in Oregon with sore asses from all the beaver bites. Incidentally, I’ve been to Fort Clatsop, nestled on the banks of the Columbia River, and isn’t much of a fort. Truth be told, when my Da and camped out there one summer (definitely a story for another post as it involves a boy and his father camping outside together for the first time and a mishap with some vodka), we toured the broom closet of a barracks and I wondered how in the hell those people waited out the winter there. Maybe a lot of beaver steaks preserved in salt from the trek through Nebraska a few weeks back).

But back to the Bluffs. L & C and their posse spent about a week there and had a pretty Nebraska kind of time. They sat through a “harican” (tornado), they snacked on beavers, and they must have had questions of the “who’s in charge here” nature when no less than 6 Chiefs of the “Otteau & Missourie Nation” showed up to find out what the pale faces were up to. They also had a Frenchman or two that had gone AWOL to live with the Indians, which means that the Frogs have been surrendering and jumping ship for over a century.

“After Brackfast we collected those Indians under an orning of our Main Sail, in presence of our party paraded & delivered a long speech to tiem expressive of our journey… ”

To which I imagine the Native Americans simply looked at each other befuddled by all the formalities and wondered if our boys had any baubles or guns they wanted the trade for beaver pelts. Whatever the result, we do know that L & C pressed on northwest under a hot Nebraska sun in August having no idea that in a few short weeks, they would be face-to-face with Rockies and thinking “Crap, now what?”



Southwest is Paging Him, Part 2

“And what’s that?” He asked as He walked alongside me.
“You’re forgetting how she feels about what I’m doing,” I said, motioning to the sweet old woman in the wheelchair sitting at Southwest Gate 16. We stood at in the walkway just outside the gate. Florence sat in the chair maybe 10 feet away, her purse clutched beneath her arms. He looked at her for a moment, his grin melting to a straight face.
“She’s afraid.” I said. “Afraid about going through this airport. Afraid of getting her purse snatched. Afraid of what she’s going to face when she gets to O’Hare. To be honest, I would be too. I’ve been to O’Hare before and if you think this airport is daunting, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
We were taking the escalators down to the ticket counters where I walked up and greeted another elderly woman.
“Did you call for a wheelchair?” I said.
“Oh, yes.” Marguerite had a cane laying over her with her carry-on bag on top of it and her purse on top of that. She clutched them as if her life depended on it.
“I’m Andy, I’ll be taking care of you today,” I said as I retrieved a wheel chair and cast my hand over it. “Your chariot awaits.” Marguerite smiled slightly and lowered herself slowly into the chair, her bags clutched to her body all the while.
“Where we going today? Do you have your boarding pass and your photo ID?”
“Oh yes,” she said and fumbled in her purse. She handed everything to me. “I think I need to go to gate C 14,” she said timidly.
“Well, that would be kind of hard because there isn’t a gate C 21. But there is a Gate 16, so we’ll go there,” I pointed out on the boarding pass where it said the gate. “But once you get on the plane, the flight attendant will take you to C 21, because you are sitting there. Sound good?”
Marguerite looked confused as she examined the boarding pass.
“Don’t worry, Miss. I get’em confused all the time, too.”
Marguerite smiled slightly and chuckled. I put the foot rests down.
“And away we go,” I said as we backed into the elevator. “Move over,” I said curtly to Him and shoved Him into the corner.
We took the elevator up to the second floor and down to the security gate. I leaned over to speak to Marguerite again. “Now, do you have any hip or knee replacements I should be aware of?”
“Yes, I have a hip replacement. And I have a Pacemaker” she said.
“Okay, and the other awkward question I have is are you 75 years of age or older?”
“I’m 81,”she said and sunk in the chair a little.
“Well, I would have guessed 29, but okay. In that case, we can go right through the security checkpoint and you don’t even have to get out of the chair. Sound good?”
She smiled, relaxed a little, and looked up at me. “Yes, that sounds marvelous.”
“Okay, we’ll get you squared away.”
Once we were past the security checkpoint, we walked to the gate where the first woman was sitting. He got impatient and started walking ahead of us, glancing at all the overpriced food, drinks and magazines until I ran over his foot with the weight of the chair and Marguerite on top of the chair. He yelped and started hopping on the foot I hadn’t run over.
“Sorry about that, Ahab,” I said and pushed Him out of the way. Still hopping, He lost His balance and fell to the floor where a few people wheeled their carry-ons over Him and a few strollers. One occupant of these strollers, fussing with her sippy cup, dropped the cup on His head and sour milk spilled out onto His face. I wheeled the second woman parallel to the first woman.
“Florence, meet Marguerite.” Both woman extended their hands to each other and grinned. “Now, do either of you need to use the restroom?”
“Oh, yes, I need to,” Marguerite said. I sighed deeply with mock exasperation. They both chuckled.
“You couldn’t have said that before Miss?” I said and put my hands on my hips. Then I smiled and took her to the restroom. She slowly lifted herself out of and into the chair again as I held her bags. “Alright, are we good?”
“Yes,” said Marguerite. “We’re good.” I wheeled her back to the gate where He sat nursing His foot.
“Freaking lawn jockey,” He muttered when suddenly, Florence leaned out of her chair as far as she could and soundly boxed his ears. He yelped again and rubbed His ears along with His foot.
“Why don’t you stop bothering him,” she said as she settled back into her chair. “He makes me feel safer and he’s nice.” He looked at her incredulously.
“See, what you don’t realize is if these nice ladies have a guy like me pushing them into and out of airplanes and gates and ticket counters, I make them feel safe. They don’t have to worry, at least in the airport, if someone is gonna come along and mug them or take advantage of them. Not while I’m here. Last night, I helped a woman to a bar in the airport and got her a chicken sandwich. Then I took her to a shuttle bus. And she tipped me $3. And it was worth that and more. The ‘more’ was I got to see her get into the shuttle with the help of the cool shuttle driver and head to the hotel and not have to worry.”
His looked brightened a little. ”Oh yeah. And I’m sure you weren’t tempted going into that bar at all, were you? Didn’t want to slide off to the side and grab a shot while no one was looking?”
“No, I didn’t,” I replied. “I had a job to do and I did it and it made me feel good. And I know it made her feel good.” He followed as I wheeled Florence down the jet way to where the plane would meet it. He stood between me and the swinging doors. The tarmac was outside the doors.
“Bullshit,” He said and pulled His last single-serving vodka bottle from his cloak. “You’re working this job because you have to and you and I both know you can do more.”
I watched as the Southwest plane pulled to within striking distance of the swinging doors.
“Well, you said it. Not me,” I said and pushed out the doors to the concrete 50 feet below. Within seconds, the plane rolled over Him, crushing the bottom half of His body.
“So, do you have everything you need Florence? It’s a long flight.”

Southwest is Paging Him, Part I

Midwest gray is a special kind of gray. Especially in February. A looming dome of glum sits over the world like a cup closing over a flame. And the bubbling promise of spring is still four scores away.
“How ya enjoying that Lean Cuisine, Tubby Guts?
It was only a matter of time before He threw that one out there. The most hated nickname of my childhood.
“Oh come on,” He said and downed another of those airplane-sized bottles of vodka, then threw it to the floor. “You had to know I was gonna sport out that little gem. It’s a good name for you, Tubby Guts. Fits you well.”
Sitting in the airport cafeteria, I had a Lean Cuisine sandwich, a protein bar and a protein shake before me for my lunch. Outside, a mincing mid-winter snow rained down on the tarmac. After work, I would squeeze in a trip to the gym before my Friday night meeting.
“The clip-on tie is what makes the outfit, I think,” He said. “Those little captain’s stripes on your shoulders is an elegant touch, but the clip-on tie really makes the whole ensemble work.” He snickered lightly and dropped the empty bottle to join the 7 others around his feet. “Like you’re a real pilot instead of just another derelict step’n’fetch it lawn jockey who can’t get any other job! Which is, y’know, what you are.”
I ate my sandwich and drank my shake. I had been working as a wheelchair attendant for a little over a week and, so far, had been focusing on the parts of the job I liked. Walking around the airport and getting plenty of exercise was great. Hell, wasn’t that how Jared on the Subway commercials had lost all of his tonnage? Less time spent at the gym and all that. Being active at work instead of sitting behind a desk shuffling papers and surfing the Web is always a plus too. Psychologically, living and thinking in the now and putting to use my wit and pleasant demeanor instead of living in my head, building resentments and nurturing that ever-toxic sense of self-importance and anti-social righteousness. Attending Buddhist services and being part of the Sangha. Just simply working, feeling the power inherent in being of service to others. With each dawn, I meditate and let the power of loving kindness and compassion fill me before utilizing it in my work. I’ve tried not to let the dark side of the job infiltrate my thinking about it. How I deserve it from all my years of torturing my loved ones in my addiction. How this job is penance for being so self-absorbed for so long. How I somehow need to just take my medicine.
“Hey, I applaud you for fighting off the reality of the loser you are,” He said. “Chairing a meeting and trying to bring something to that by really reading the Big Book. Staying plugged-in with your little friends. You’ve displayed admirable skill in deluding yourself, my friend,” He sneered. He rose, walked to the window and looked out at the planes taxiing around the tarmac. He turned back to me and shook His head. “But come on. The sooner you accept that you’re just a washed up burn-out, really, the healthier our outlook can be. And let’s be reasonable, shall we? Stop ogling the pretty young women in sharp suits all the time and get used to what you are.”
“Which is?” I said and finished my sandwich.
“A middle-aged, overweight creep with graying hair and limited prospects, son!” He expanded His arms, palms up, to His sides and took a bow.
I nodded solemnly as I rose myself and folded up the microwave-safe box and threw it in the trash can. I opened the protein bar, took a big bite and pulled on the shake. Dusting off my hands, I looked Him directly in the eyes.
“Unfortunately, you’re forgetting one thing …”

Reflections on a Seed

Acorns. Poppies. Like the redwood and the bonsai, seeds encompass all manner of different potentials. We are the same.
Like the vastness of different seeds in the natural world, each of us comes into this world with our own genetic makeup. Some seeds large, some small, and all have their own special natural code written in them from the moment their existence begins. Whether they will rise to be a rose or a daffodil, a towering oak or a flourishing hydrangea, Spanish moss or water lily, we all are born with potential to become something beautiful. Something unique.
And as with us, flowers and trees, mosses and even weeds, are subject to the perils and fortunes of the world which we are born into. Seeds are blown away in a brisk wind and never find purchase in soil. Seeds are drenched in thunderclap and washed to the sea. Seeds are born into a desert, never seeing the slightest wink of favor from the sun or the heat.
We are born into this world and, too often, lie at the mercy of poverty and malice. Or we begin our fledgling journey into light, only to be dashed away by abuse and neglect. Like a budding sapling or an ambitious cherry blossom, we can suddenly feel the harsh bellow of the nature of the seasons and of our surroundings. Some of us flower to magnificence when the environs are friendly and the sun is sweet. Others begin the slow decline into shambles, lacking the nurturing patience of a gentle gardener. Inside the soft skin of a shell, we possess our own special gifts. To mother, to paint or to write. To deliver a sermon or hit a homerun or pitch a wicked slider. To run great distances and to explore the core of the earth, the atom, and ourselves.
The world is harsh and unrelenting. Armed with our gifts and our gentle souls, we face the demons of the dark side, the talons of a thieving hawk that would rest our gifts away and fly into the night. The seeds of ourselves face the darkness and the light, sunshine and night. When we grow into the nature of our true selves, whether in a greenhouse or the adverse conditions of the world or both, when we do that, we provide beauty and shelter, food and romance, to any who love us back. That is the great obstacle of the seed, the challenge of our lives. To learn how and where we can live to our truest selves. And in that, God blesses us, if we listen very close, to the purpose of our blossom.

20 (Or The Art of Juggling)

NHS dog


     Yesterday, I gave myself a gift. Toys R Us didn’t have a juggling it, but I did buy 2 pink and one lime green Swoosh-thingys. That and the You Tube video How to Juggle should be enough to get the Swoosh rolling. Actually, that’s why I bought Swooshes and not balls. So they don’t roll away from me. But I digress.

     Today is February 1st. Today is also the 20th month of my sobriety.

    “Why 10? I tell you why. Because 10 sounds important. 10 is the basis of the decimal system. It’s a psychologically satisfying number.” – King George Carlin

     My 10th month was pretty significant, too. I had just passed the Biology class that was the pre-req I needed to enroll in the Veterinary Technician program at IWCC. The program I later dropped out of. But at the time, just passing that class was the bee’s knees for me (Little did I know that my parents, the one’s funding my school endeavor, saw it merely as an experiment. Not me. I came out with guns blazing ready to tackle that program. Little did I know that my brain was lacking a few bullets).

     A multiple of 10, 20 has a lot of significance too. More than 10, even. I just got a job pushing wheelchairs at the airport for disabled passengers. That job will sustain me while I wait patiently for another position to open up in my chosen profession. I’ve talked to the powers that be and said position will probably open up soon. A very, very good thing.

     My 20 months in sobriety has also taught me many things. Namely, how pandemic the disease of alcoholism is and its devastating effects on so very many people. A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that one should be kind to everyone because you have no idea what another person is dealing with in their life, let alone your own problems. This has really stuck with me. It is also in keeping with another new endeavor of mine, exploring Buddhism. One of the central tenets of Buddhism is displaying loving kindness and having compassion for all beings. If my life in the ¾ house has taught me one thing, is that every guy that has come across the doorstep, along with their families, friends, co-workers, even the guy who has to tolerate anyone’s potentially foul mood at the gas stations, is effected by addiction.

     When I write about Him, it’s my mildly schizophrenic way of dealing with that looming part of me ( Looming right now anyway. I’m sure He will shrink, little by little the longer I keep fighting the good fight) that I’ve come to recognize as addiction. What has been truly shocking to me is how many people have come out of the proverbial woodwork to share with me their plight and the plight of their father/mother/friend/brother/lover/you name it. Essentially, that’s why I’ve chosen to be so open about Him, about my alcoholism, about the daily struggle. Not just of not drinking. That’s actually the easy part. But of dealing with life on life’s terms (it took 7 paragraphs for an AA cliché to come out. Not bad. They are, after all, clichés and oft quote sayings for a reason). Writing it down is the best, truest, and really only way I know how to deal with it and doing so honestly, after spending nearly 2 decades as a liar. The fact that I’m able to relate to others my own battle with addiction and then, somehow, give other people the sense that not only are they not alone, but perhaps more importantly a window into the mind of their loved one, that is truly amazing to me. And, for the last 20 months, I’ve had first-hand exposure to the success stories, the tragic reality of the suicides, and all manner of other stories related to the great affliction of addiction and its vast desert of devastation.

     If I have one Achilles heel, it’s my impatience with those who just don’t seem to get it. I’m working on turning that into the compassion I spoke of. It’s an ongoing project, the same way I housemate recently told me that he “just doesn’t have any patience.” This isn’t an insurmountable personality trait we’re dealing with, it’s a hard-fought goal to which everybody has to strive towards to varying degrees. It’s patience that made my family never give up on me. It’s the same patience that I’m employing in own life.

     It’s the patience that’ll get me juggling. Swooshes for now. Maybe by the time 30 gets here I’ll have graduated to torches.