Who Farted?

Ha! Gotcha! See, I used that title because I wanted to see if I could drum up enough traffic on my blog to beat my all-time high of 170 views in day. So, I chose as crass and puerile a title as I could think of and posted this on Sunday evening when I figured Facebook traffic would be at a weekly high. And look! You’re here, aren’t you? The real subject is this post, however, is not flatulence, though it is gas. Specifically, natural gas. More specifically, a natural gas company in Chicago, IL, a company that enabled me to showcase one of my favorite allies, my father.

I’ve said for years that I don’t have much in this world, but I do have cops, lawyers and judges. That’s the crew my Da rolled with for nearly 40 years. I mean, I use to work the chain gang at high school football games with my Da, a couple cops and a guy who eventually sat on the bench. My fantasy baseball league was stocked with me, my brother, a few of his friends, and virtually every stage of the legal process from arrest to conviction (in a couple counties) represented. We held the draft at the office of the attorney who represented me in my Disability case, okay? Anyway, a long time ago, a friend’s father called my Da a “tough bastard” in court. He was a prosecutor with the Douglas County Attorney’s office for almost 2 decades and a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s office for almost that long after that. It’s always been interesting to me that this guy who made a living putting bad guys in jail for about 40 years could have started out his adulthood in a Jesuit seminary and remained a devout Catholic his whole life. But I guess my Da shares my affinity for the sacred and the profane. If you get him in his cups, he’ll quietly point out that a prominent private attorney here in town, a guy who is a slut for the spotlight, has been featured in the local daily rag, and who has represented a goodly amount of criminals, has lost to my father all but time in the courtroom. It’s not even that the guy isn’t a good attorney. It’s that my Da is a lot better. I saw him in court one time when he was arguing a case against a man who gunned down a teenager and I suddenly realized where his talent for getting to the truth of whatever I had done so many times came from. Now, years later, I remember him questioning the murder suspect and realized he used the same tactics in questioning me when I screwed up. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he was a stone, cold asshole when he wanted to know something you didn’t want to tell him. Like I said, a tough bastard. And over the years, Da has been afforded the opportunity by friends and family alike to dip his toes in all manner of legal matters across the legal spectrum. Secretly, I think he kind of digs this stuff.

I will attempt to encapsulate the situation before I get to the good stuff. Remember that trip I took to Alaska the year after I graduated from college? Well, I came back to the lower 48 to a couple letters from the gas company informing me that I still owed them about $1200 for the natural gas usage from the winter before. Without boring you with the details, I owed them, but not $1200. After discussing the matter with my Da and the circumstances that led up to the $1200 bill (all you need to know is after I got telling him the story, he was on my side) he advised me, as my attorney, to pen the gas company a letter explaining that they thought I owed them for the heat for the whole building during a very cold winter. In truth, my landlord, not exactly an up-an-up kind of guy, hadn’t responded to any of the gas company’s requests to let them into the building to read the meter and get an accurate reading of what the 2nd floor tenants, the 1st floor tenants (me and my roommate) and the basement tenants (the landlord) actually owed them. As I said, not a very up-and-up fella. He would rather I get stuck with the heat bill for whole building. So the gas company turned the account over to a collection agency. A short time later, I received a phone call from an employee of the collection agency (they called me at work at an outdoor gear retailer here in my home town. No idea to this day how they got the number) again informing me of the total amount I now owed them.

“We need to know when we can expect payment?”

“You can expect payment anytime you like. I don’t have $1200 and am not paying you anything.”

Then a letter from the collection agency promising me legal action would be taken if I didn’t pay. Here’s a portion of the letter my Da … er … attorney … wrote in reply on the letterhead of one of his other lawyer buddies who said would play along:

“Mr. Sigler disputes this claim. This fact was clearly delineated in Mr. Sigler’s letter to [Gas company] in September. Mr. Sigler is also fully conversant with the provisions of Title 15, United States Code, Section 1681.”

Fully conversant in … how many? He goes on:

“Nevertheless, Mr. Sigler has authorized me to offer the sum of $250.00 as full settlement of his liability, if any, for this disputed claim. I am prepared to send you a check from my trust account and a suitable release. Please advise in writing at your earliest convenience.”

My trust account? I didn’t know I have a trust account. That’s probably because I don’t have a trust account. But does the natural gas company need to know that I don’t have a trust account? No, no they don’t. Perhaps the kicker in this little dispute is I was living in another state with my folks. So unless the collection agency thought it worthwhile to pay to fly a representative to my city and serve me with a summons (and also the air fare, meals, hotel room and rental car fees involved [I knew my job at the airport would come in handy eventually]) over a $1200 bill, they were SOL. Needless to say, the statute of limitations on the bill (I had no idea what the phrase “statute of limitations” meant until this incident) has long ago expired and I’m free and clear of the $1200.

Perhaps the best part of all of this is I just got off the phone with my Da and after explaining to him my concerns over the possible legal ramifications of this post and my father’s role in the whole affair, my Da replied “Son, I’m retired now. They can’t touch me.”

Indeed, Da.

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Camels Kissing

Kissing_Camels_by_fat_her

 

 

I wish I could carry

Some of your load

The tent or the food

As we trudge down this road

 

Your boots or your packs

The water or saddle

To give you time away

From this sand blown battle

 

Just 5 minutes would do

To give you some peace

With only your rose

And the chance just to breathe

 

I lack money for donkeys

Or a mule to give peace

To lighten the weight

You so desperately need

 

We travel together

In this cold desert wind

Both so haggard

And in need of some sin

 

And yet we march on

To the glorious pool

Hoping it’s there

Respite and water cool

 

To sit by the pool

And rest and regroup

Two camels kissing

Before our journey renews

 

Him (Paying Rent)

I filled my QuickTrip travel mug full of coffee, Heath flavored creamer and Sweet ‘N Low and went outside on the porch. Cigarette lit, I drew on it and sighed a deep sigh. I had seen that Mitch texted me when I checked my phone inside. Now it was time to read. But just knowing that he had texted me at all made me grin. A little.

“What the hell are you so happy about?”

“Jesus! Where the hell did you come from?” I said and reeled back in my chair.

“Lookin’ for the heart of Saturday night,” He said. “Turns out it was in the floorboards,” He said and pulled Himself from where He had been lying face down on the porch and into a sitting position. He surveyed around Him until He found what He was looking for. He drew on the last of the vodka in the Barton’s pint, draining it. “So. Your little friend’s comment certainly hit you where you lived, didn’t it?” He looked like a garbage truck had run over Him, but he still managed a toothless grin.

“Yes, I suppose it did,” I replied. He examined the bottle under the last of the street light, then chucked it out onto the front lawn. “I would appreciate it if you picked that up before you left,” I said.

“I would appreciate it if you did it for me, asshole,” He said, stood up and stretched. “You drove home none too happy that Mitch said what he said and you fumed about it all through the night and into the morning. Didn’t you?”

While he was talking, I looked at my phone again. There it was. “Mitch AA 1 new message”. I clicked on it. I read the one sentence message and grinned, but only a little. “Yeah, I guess I did,” I replied.

“What do you losers call it when somebody gets to you? Oh yeah. He’s livin’ in your head and not paying rent. He slept blissfully last night and had no idea that you spent the last 6 hours debating out everything in your head. Whether you should be happy being at the Humane Society, if you’re settling just because they were kind enough to take you back, whether you should do what Tim and your old man want you to do and find something that pays better, and on and on. I know you didn’t think about drinking, but you certainly wallowed in the place where drinking got you. Which is almost as good.”

I had to play this hand close to my chest. For once, I had Him and didn’t want to give that away too quickly. “I’ve just been thinking about what else I could do.”

“Which is nothing, but hey, if it makes you feel a little better to fantasize that what Mitch said isn’t the truth, go for it,” He said and sat down in the chair next to me. Even when He was wrong, somehow He managed to be right. At least a little. On a dark day. “You should just take Mitch at his word because he is right. All you can do is take care of some fucking cats and you wake up early to meditate or yoga-size or whatever makes you feel better about being a burn-out today. But in the end, that’s all you do. Keep telling yourself its noble work. Seems to be working out well for you.”

Now, I let the snake loose.

“I have no illusions that what I do right now is easy,” I said. “And you know what, I will turn it into something more. And if it doesn’t and I jump ship and decide to do something different, that’ll be up to me. But that’s not the issue.” I shoved my phone in His face so He could clearly read what Mitch had written:

“Dude, I apologize for being insensitive with my comments.”

He stared at the phone, then shoved it away. I shoved it back in His face.

“It’s the 10th Step, in case you were wondering. ‘And when we were wrong promptly admitted it’,” I said. “I‘d say 6 hours is pretty prompt don’t you? Or, put it another way, he paid his rent and we’re moving on.”

He pushed my hand away again.

“Ya see, I may keep working with the cats and I may move into another position at the Humane Society. And I may jump ship and find something else altogether. I don’t know what I will do in the future, but what I will do in the present is be thankful that I have friends like the Mitches who know when they screwed up and apologize pretty damn soon after. Because a lot of people don’t have that. And what I’ve said before in meetings about its too bad that there’s a not a Life Anonymous meeting for people to take some of the guidelines we set out in the program? Yeah, this is one of those times. Because whether or not it’s true, Mitch knows he did hit me where I live and that it hurt. So he apologized and I forgave him and life goes on. No harm, no foul, no being butt hurt until I get over it or Mitch apologizes 3 weeks from now as though he had just made a wiseass remark and I shouldn’t take it too seriously. Over, done with, gone. And a couple of the other Mitches even checked in with me to make sure I was cool. And the storm clouds moved on and the sea remains calm. And me and the Mitches and Dan and Greg? We’re all in this together.”

I walked out on the grass, picked up the bottle, and walked back on the porch. I came up in front of Him, cinched up His belt extra tight until He yelped a little and I shoved the bottle at His chest.

“So run along,” I said and pushed Him down the stairs. “Go crawl back under your rock and sleep it off. I got cats to care for.”

Love Your Darlings

Years ago I was talking to a writer friend about her craft. She wrote professionally and reflected that in her profession, you often have to “kill your darlings.” This refers to the sad reality (at least for the one doing the writing) that very often, your most dear and (at least to you) poignant words can end up on the floor of the editor. Sometimes you are your own editor, sometimes there’s someone paid to edit your work for you. When you do the cutting, there’s a momentary sense of loss that’s followed by the assurance of knowing that shorter is very often better. When someone else brings down the axe, it’s kind of like someone killing your dog.

I don’t say, of course, that it’s like someone killing their child. Nothing is like losing a child. I made the mistake once of comparing losing my dog to someone else losing their child and my sister-in-law about blew a gasket. However, when you or an editor decides something you wrote and thought enough of to include in the original piece has to go, there is a part of you that weeps. Just a little. Like at the end of a Disney movie.

And that is the magic inherent in creating something. A friend of mine recently lost her mother and in a recent blog post, she asserted the absolute necessity of art in expressing human emotion. In her case, the grief she was suffering in losing her mom absolutely had to come out and writing and playing her clarinet was how she did it. If she didn’t, the grief would well up inside her and eventually, she would blow her own gasket. This is just me talking, but I think in a vast number of people, suppression of human emotion, any emotion, can lead to a far worse end: dissolution. If you don’t write, sculpt, paint, photograph or vocalize through music what is occupying, consuming or indeed overcoming your mind and heart, one of the worst fates that can await a person will come to fruition. The pain becomes dull. The joy becomes a pleasant smile. The elation becomes “oh, wasn’t that nice.” We cease to really feel the breadth of the human experience in the way that we are hard-wired for. When we create, the resulting song or meal or blog post is obviously the desired goal. But being mindful of why you are doing it and what it’s doing for you is the whole bloody point. Whether the song or meal or blog post is good is a very distant second to ensuring that it is real.

And oh so often, a more sinister fate awaits the artist. By the way, I use the word “artist” liberally because it should be used liberally. Writers write. Painters paint. Photographers take photos. Anyone who spouts off that unless your article is published in Maxim, your photo appears in Rolling Stone or your sculpture is not on exhibit at the Guggenheim, you are not a writer/photographer/sculptor is one of two things: 1) A jerk 2) jealous that they don’t have the courage themselves to engage in the simple act of creation. And we are not born with this lack of courage. In my case, I have a family and, let’s face it, the inclination, to try out many forms of creative expression. I write. I have since I was a kid and I think I’m pretty good. I can play piano a little and would get a lot better if I had the time to devote to that path. I took a sculpture class in college and my work in that class could most generously be described as horrific. I take photos with a digital camera and my phone that would prompt professional photographers to pat me on the head and give me an Oreo. At my age, I know what I’m good at and I cultivate those passions and almost exclusively those passions.

An article I read recently at The HuffPost page on Facebook posited that those who write with a degree of regularity often enjoy better sleep, less stress, are less prone to depression and sometimes develop x-ray vision and occassional super-human strength. Okay, I made that last part up, but I think the same principle holds for all art forms. It extends to cooking, quilting and all manner of other endeavors where the artist takes a handful of raw materials (a pen and paper, a clarinet, a digital camera or a table full of ingredients) and uses them to create something that is often times so beautiful that it makes your heart ache just to think about it. And even if it isn’t all that beautiful and in fact sucks watermelons, just the act of doing it, of writing the poem, of writing or playing the song, or even something as seemingly silly as building a sand castle or dancing in the kitchen yields the sense of creating something wholly your own. Nobody else built that sand castle and added that maiden’s tower. You did that. Nobody else two-stepped with the dog to Barbara Sreisand. You did. And that’s why the dog is smiling.

And not to belabor the point, but I’ll close with this. Don’t ever listen to anybody else but the muse in your soul when it’s begging to be exalted. I’ve said it many, many times and here’s one more because dammit it needs repeating over and over again. As Stevie Wonder said, when they try to burst your bubble, its cuz they have none of their own. In the case of art, even if the muse is singing at a whisper, lean in and listen and let it become a choir’s song.

Gimme Your Card

Thanks Card

 

I’ve always wanted to use that in conversation for any reason. Brother Wilmot used to say that when I went to the all-boys Catholic high school. “Your card” was your demerit card and “Gimme …”meant that you were probably about to get JUG (Justice Under God), the Jesuit euphemism for detention.

But this post is not about punishment but reward. Specifically, my reward for sharing myself with the Creative Group for Bedlam Farm, the rest of Facebook and the world through my writing. I have had such a positive response and so many compliments about my blog (newtonstake.wordpress.com if you’re interested. And really, why wouldn’t you be?) that I decided I needed to do something about the overwhelming gratitude I feel.

I got this idea the other day when I bought a card for my good friend’s daughter who was about to start her first day of pre-school. As I signed the card “Love, Andy (Your dad’s friend)” something clicked. When I went through all the get-well cards I received when I was in the hospital 10 years ago, many of them were signed “ {Person’s name], your Dad/Mom’s friend”. Then I realized that for many people, and especially folks like me who don’t have any kids, we often follow the lives of our friends’ and loved ones’ children with great interest. When the child makes them happy, that makes us happy. And when the child is in dire straits, as I certainly was when I was sick, my parents went through more anguish and worry than anybody should ever have to go through. So when their friends sent cards to me and them, it was such a simple act of love and kindness and yet it means so much to us. I have gone through that box of cards a few times and I am simply overwhelmed, sometimes to tears, every time.

In the past, I penned a thank you of one sort or another to the people in my Facebook creative group who gave so freely of themselves when I moved in to this place. But when I signed that card to Clementine Vankowski (That name is the amalgam of my friend’s last name and his wife’s last name and it’s his daughter’s legal name. The guy’s a freakin’ genius), I realized that what I really wanted to do was pen an individual Thank You card for every person who contributed to the kitty of gifts that’s smoothed that transition into this place. Some gave cash, some gave gift cards, some gave other gifts of yoga mats and sage and a mystic turtle rattle and other things. In the time since I’ve moved in, I’ve received other gifts from other friends in said creative group in the form of books by a renowned Buddhist author and another written by the sender herself. I cherish each and every one of these things and intend to send a card to all of them.

And just think, you too could be the recipient of one of these great cards. All you need to do is send me a gift! Yes, it’s just that simple.

“Thank you.” Like so many things, it’s pretty easy to say and sometimes, not really mean it. But when the thanker really looks the thankee in the eyes, or sends a card, you truly take it to heart that person is thanking you for being who you are.

Your Next Thought

     Mitch had been a great guy to have in my side in sobriety.

     He recently celebrated 9 years of sobriety and I had an in-depth conversation with him at the Cornhusker Roundup about being a single guy a sobriety.

     That situation itself has proved interesting to say the least because I don’t have the total lack of concern (or, at least, perceived lack of concern) about whether I attract a young lady’s amorous advances or not which, at least in my youth, was precisely what women were looking for. I do not understand why total indifference to women is what often attracts them most, but there it is. And also I don’t possess that drunken boyish charm that served me well for many years. I’m kind of an attractive guy, but apparently was much more attractive to the opposite sex when I was much fatter and much more aloof about, well, everything. Now I have the dangerously-close-to-middle-aged, borderline burn-out gravity to partner an utter lack of social sense in women that goes with being single, never married, and with no children, all under the umbrella of being brain-damaged and extraordinarily self-conscious about the fact that nobody is going to buy any of it. You see my problem.

     Anyway back to Mitch. Me and Mitch revealed ourselves to each other in much greater detail after Robin Williams suicide. He even responded very cordially when I shared a story about seeing his wife at a meeting and thinking she was gorgeous before I met him and we became friends. He took it as a compliment, the noble lad.

     Before I started working Tuesday nights, I used to go to a casual meeting at his apartment where he would discuss the Big Book and other literary works with Mitch, Mitch, Mitch and Mitch (yes, that Mitch).

     I have had my own journeys through literature pertaining to recovery. I read Zen and Recovery at the recommendation of one of the Mitches. And since that book further buttressed my belief that, for me at least, Buddhism definitely has a major place in my recovery, I moved on to The Big Questions. A great book written by a sage Buddhist author, The Big Questions posits the question of whether we own our possessions or if our possessions own us. This same sentiment is mirrored in Fight Club when Tyler Durden asserts the exact same sentiment. For me at least, when your new spiritual journey mirrors Tyler, you are definitely on the right path.

     Back to Mitch. During one of these scholarly discussions, Mitch recounted a tactic he uses regularly as a sort of mini-meditation. When he sensed his anger, frustration, maybe exasperation riling up inside, he pauses and asks himself:

 

What is my next thought going to be?

 

     I had occasion to use this tactic recently at work. My boss was exhibiting a behavior that, to me, is less than patient and far from thoroughly thought out. In short, it really pissed me off. It bears mentioning that said behavior also came on a Friday afternoon about mid-day. At that time, every week, my tolerance is razor-thin for every single thing. I am exhausted because I’m on the last hours of my 6-day work week and it would do me well to remember that the most profitable time in the day has not come yet and I need to be exponentially more patient until the day is done. Today, all these facts were trumped by exhaustion.

     But stopping long enough to ask myself “What’s my next thought going to be?” is a supremely effective way to stop myself from negative thoughts and emotions of all kinds. Now, this tactic doesn’t work nearly as well if you are already an asshole and are hell-bent on actually being an asshole. If you find thoughts of hostility and judgment and despair somehow comforting to you, this will not work. But if you are like me and want to eradicate those things from your thinking entirely, the “What’s my next thought going to be?” tactic can be supremely liberating. You are effectively stopping yourself mid-thought to ask a couple simple questions:

  1. How important is it that this minor (in some cases, infinitely minor) annoyance just happened?
  2. How much am I going to let it affect my mood, my outlook and my opinion on the United Nations?

     Because if you want it to, the inconvenience or annoyance can affect your mood for hours, even days. But if you have different designs on how this thing is going to or not going to affect your disposition and you decide you want to remain on the Good Side of the Force, then “What’s my next thought going to be?” can be the essential tactic in overhauling your thinking entirely and trying to make yourself into an ever-growing positive person.

     And that’s really freakin’ hard to do. Being a positive person, thinking positive, feeling positive, is really hard. It’s work. I don’t possess enough knowledge about the human condition to comment on why, for a vast amount of people, it’s so much easier and so much more appealing and somehow satisfying to be negative and vindictive and mean even to (and sometimes especially to) total strangers, but it is. I think it somehow affords small-minded people an opportunity to validate themselves, but what possible good is it doing other than causing other’s suffering? Again, one of the suggestions the author of The Big Questions puts forth is this:

Allow.

     Especially, allow things to happen that we don’t like because they are going to continue happening. For the rest of our lives. So why not get used to them and figure out ways to deal with them? Just … allow.

     What’s my next thought gonna be? Is it going to good or bad? Positive or negative? Feeding the aggression or quelling the anger? Cultivating the despair or trying, sometimes desperately, to seek the brighter side of life? If you stop long enough to ask yourself this question and really make the effort to make that next thought more Yoda and less Darth Vader, it will, slowly but surely, begin to work its magic.

     Hey, it worked for Monty Python. I suggest giving it a whirl.