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Watch For It

He stopped at the curb to press the crosswalk button, casually swinging his briefcase as he checked both ways for traffic. Any second now he’d set the briefcase down to tie a shoe or adjust his jacket. Wait… wait… and there it was. Today he tied a shoe. The light turned green and I drove through the intersection glancing at him one last time as he stood to pick up his briefcase. He nodded slightly as I passed. I raised one hand from the steering wheel.

I leave for work very early in the morning. Almost every weekday for a of couple years now I’ve seen this same lone man at the same empty intersection at the same early time of day. We each wake up to carry out our daily routines unconcerned, and mostly unaware, that the other exists except for that thirty seconds or so each morning at the intersection. He generally approaches the corner about the time I come to a stop at the light.

That early in the morning he’s the only pedestrian and I’m the only car. I forgot who began to wave first, but after months of early morning crossings it just seemed silly not to. He’d become as much a part of the landscape for me as the row of trees by the school, the yellow house with the picket fence, or the bridge over the creek. Their constant presence is an odd reassurance that all is right and routine. On rare days when he wasn’t at the intersection, I wondered where the man might be. He’d reappear the next day and all would be normal again. I laugh at myself for noticing such things but I suppose others do too. It’s not just me?

And it isn’t only the man with the briefcase. A rusty white van pulls out in front of me at the next corner. Further along, two black labs do their early morning romping behind a fence. A man in a red hat hoses off the sidewalk in front of an office building. Over time I began to notice these things and soon actually watched for them.

Each evening going home I walk past a woman smoking a cigarette under a tree out back. The security guard at the parking garage sings loudly to himself. Back in the car and I pass the same food truck along the same stretch of road every day. Closer to home and those two black labs are either lying in the shade or barking at squirrels. Those routine sights in my personal landscape satisfy something, I’m just not sure what. It’s not just me?

A while back, returning to work after a few days of vacation followed by a long weekend, I eagerly checked off my daily landscape markers. The briefcase, the dogs, the sidewalk washer, all there as usual even though I’d been gone a while. That evening on the way home I saw the woman light her cigarette and head towards the tree out back. I laughed again at myself for even noticing, but she was, after all, a part of my daily landscape.

As I neared the tree on my way to the parking garage I wondered if the security guard would still be singing after all of my days away from work. That’s when I heard the woman’s voice.

“Hey.” she said as took a puff of her cigarette. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

It’s not just me.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Write It For Her Anyway

My grandmother, Nannie, died over twenty years ago but I still tear up at her memory. At the time she died I had never written much at all, and certainly not attempted poetry, but the urge to express what she meant to me kept surfacing. Her love of God and her insistence that we would all be together again were on my mind as I thought about writing a poem. Nannie was a second mother to all of her grandchildren, helping our mothers raise us, watch out for us, worry over us and pray for us.

Just after Nannie died I mentioned to a friend while she and I were at lunch that I had a poem in mind about Nannie, one that kept surfacing when I least expected it. I wished I’d written something for Nannie before she died so she could have read it. My friend had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

And so I did.

Today, that same friend called to let me know her mother died. In discussing what the family intended to do for a service, my friend said she wanted to write some things to say about her mother but she wished she’d written them while her mother was still here. I had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

My friend had long forgotten that she’d given me the same suggestion, one that would encourage me to write the first poem I’d ever written. Nannie wasn’t there to read it, but I wrote it for her anyway.

Hand in Hand

You held me tight in times I might
Not have wanted to stand.
A child so young, life just begun,
You there to hold my hand.

Your years flew past, painfully fast,
Sooner than I had planned.
Effort in talking, weakness in walking,
My turn to hold your hand.

But there’ll come a time, both yours and mine
To see wonderful things, so grand.
We’ll meet in that place, a smile on the face
And we’ll hold each other‘s hand.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under Family, family faith poem, Nostalgia, poetry

Who’s It Gonna Hoight?

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

He wasn’t looking for an answer. His rhetorical question was more of an explanation. Not that he needed one.

The old fellow in a grease-covered uniform had an accent I hadn’t heard since Archie Bunker. I smiled and waved to the sweaty man who seemed very tired.

Evening walks through my neighborhood take me mostly by houses and condos, but a few blocks further along is an industrial area with the usual mix of manufacturers, package delivery services, and even a brewery. On one corner is an auto repair shop. By that time of day the mechanics are rolling in tire displays, hosing down bays, and performing general closing procedures.

For a couple of weeks I’d noticed the Archie Bunker mechanic walking from the repair shop and up a grassy slope toward an overgrown fencerow. The small hill was an effort for him, especially because he carried a plateful of something in each hand. I’d seen him walk up that slope so many times that my curiosity got the better of me. This time I stopped on the street to watch him.

He first lit a cigarette. Holding it in his mouth he made his way to the top of the slope, careful to keep the plates steady on his way up. When he reached the top he stood for a moment to catch his breath. He leaned down towards the overgrown fencerow and in a voice more high-pitched, yet soft, than one could imagine coming from an elderly, oily, mechanic with a cigarette dangling from his lips, he very sweetly called “kitty kitty?”

Instantly, three scrawny kittens rolled from the brush and bounded over one another to get to the plates he had set on the ground. The Archie Bunker mechanic stood up straight, flicked ashes from his cigarette, and in fine falsetto continued to baby-talk the kittens as they inhaled the plates of food.

They were still eating when the mechanic took one last puff of his cigarette, flicked it aside, and stepped carefully back down the slope. He had seen me watching and as he passed by he smiled, nodded his head, and summed up his simple, kind effort in the one rhetorical question.

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

A couple of weeks later I was walking to lunch with a coworker. As she and I passed the front stoop of a small convenience store, an old woman sitting on the step with a styrofoam cup asked if we had any change. My coworker kept walking as I slowed up just a bit. I knew why she kept walking. We’d had conversations about panhandlers. Neither of us had ever given any of them money. She was very adamant on the subject.

I thought, stopped, and took a couple of steps back to the woman on the stoop. I had no cash and the little bit of change in my pocket couldn’t have been more than a dollar, but I dropped it into her cup. She thanked me and I turned to go to lunch.

My coworker didn’t say anything. The shocked look on her face said it all.

I wasn’t looking for an answer. My rhetorical question was more of an explanation. Not that I needed one.

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under charity, donate, help, life

A Three Dog Night

I agreed to dogsit for two friends while they vacationed in Greece. I stayed in the home of The Mama, a beautiful, independent, occasionally indignant, red Siberian husky. Staying with us for the duration were two miniature long-haired dachshunds. Effie Mae and Pearl Jean are two cream-colored half-sisters, short, pretty, and comical as only weenies can be.

Directions on the care of these three took some learning. Pearl Jean, deaf since birth, understands several hand signals which I had to master. The Mama is blind in one eye and requires a daily series of eye drops. Effie Mae has an uncontrollable urge to lick people. Anywhere. Anytime.

My traveling friends have known each other for years. Their dogs are well acquainted and see each other often so it was no major production when the weenies were brought over for their stay with The Mama and me. Pearl Jean, a bit shorter in length than her half-sister, waddled over to greet The Mama. Effie Mae, who outright adores The Mama, raced ahead to reach her before Pearl Jean.

The weenies sat and looked up admiringly at The Mama.

The Mama stood and looked down on the weenies with disgust.

She huffed, blowing just enough air from her mouth to make her cheeks puff. With obvious loathing she left the kitchen to go to the living room sofa – her throne. The Mama knows weenies are unable to jump onto sofas.

They can’t jump onto beds either – which I was reminded of that first night. The Mama slept on her regal pad beside the bed. I assumed the weenies would be happy with the beds I made for them on the floor near The Mama.

They were not.

Instant yapping indicated that they expected to sleep with me. I lifted them onto the bed and their yapping mercifully ceased as they dug here and there, balling up the sheets into acceptable bedding. They curled up in silence. I couldn’t believe those two diminutive divas demanded to sleep on the bed. Neither could The Mama.

She huffed from her regal pad.

In the silence of the night and in a state of half-sleep I was awakened by the piercing yap-howl of Pearl Jean. I looked at her, unsure of what a deaf dog would bark at in the night. She looked back at me, puzzled that I wasn’t as alarmed by what she wasn’t hearing as she was. Effie Mae, used to such nonsense, did no more than lift her head momentarily before going back to sleep.

The Mama huffed.

In the wee hours of the morning, after having slept for less than half the night, I was roused by very strange sensations. Through the fog of sleep deprivation I became aware of something licking my feet. Even more disturbing, something was licking the inside of my mouth. With flashbacks of a party I attended in my college days that I probably should have skipped, I instantly awoke. Both weenies halted their licking to waddle closer to be petted, tails wagging.

I hadn’t slept enough, my feet were wet, and my mouth tasted like, well, I shudder to imagine. It was a miserable night and I knew no one on earth could be as disgusted as I was at that moment.

The Mama huffed.

The next day, like every other for two weeks, The Mama had to be given her series of eye drops. For “allowing” this, she was given a treat of a few chunks of rotisserie chicken. I was left several chickens’ worth of meat in the freezer for this purpose. Each day I shook the eye drops to mix them well. The Mama endured them graciously and awaited her chicken treat.

The weenies soon learned that the shaking of eye drops meant the presence of chicken.

I could hardly give The Mama a treat and not give one to the weenies…

With that policy in place I went through all of the chickens in the freezer, bought several more, and realized Pearl Jean’s collar was fitting a bit tighter than when she first arrived. She also waddled more slowly. Effie Mae loved the chicken too, but obsessed with licking my ankles she missed many treats.

In addition to her licking obsession, Effie Mae liked to stare. I never knew at what precisely. She sat in the yard and stared into the sky, at the grass, or at a tree. In the house she stared at walls, the refrigerator, and herself in a full length mirror in the bedroom. She was staring at the leg of a table one night when the phone rang. It was a call from Greece.

As I described how smoothly things had been going, I yawned. It could have been the sleep deprivation that made me drop the latest rotisserie chicken purchase that I had been holding when the phone rang. Effie Mae stopped staring at the table leg to stare at the fallen chicken. Pearl Jean barked at something she didn’t hear. Things were going just fine, I reassured my friends.

The Mama huffed.

By the time my two week dog sitting stint wrapped up, the dogs and I had worked ourselves into very comfortable patterns. The weenies learned to get on and off the bed by themselves using a “ladder” I fashioned from a chair and some cushions, occasionally I placed something new in the floor for Effie Mae to stare at, and Pearl Jean’s collar fit a little better because I had learned to shake the eye drops quietly. The Mama? Well, she’s The Mama.

My friends returned bearing unbelievable gifts from Greece for my watching their dogs. They were glad things had gone well, commented that The Mama seemed fine, that the weenies looked particularly well fed, and they hoped it hadn’t been too much trouble.

I told them of course it was no trouble at all and that I’d do it again without hesitation. During a pause in our conversation, Pearl Jean barked at absolutely nothing and Effie Mae stared at my leg and then licked it. They really were comical. Who wouldn’t enjoy spending two weeks with those two dwarf divas?

The Mama huffed.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under dachsund, dog, friend, friends, husky, vacation

Try Writing

“Thousands of people who write believe they are better than thousands of others. They believe they will pen the next great American novel but their writing is dull and full of grammatical errors. Why do they write anything intended to be read by the public? Why do they write?”

I read those lines and was impelled to respond. The blogger’s entire post was arrogant and sarcastic, but those lines were the cherries on top. After I acknowledged that he can post what he likes on his own blog, I then asked if rather than squelch ambitions with a negative message about imperfection, he could instead applaud people for their attempts, for our attempts because I am one of the imperfect. But, we still try.

I don’t necessarily like being serious because, well, it’s not funny. I love a little arrogance and sarcasm as much as anyone, maybe more than anyone, but his post was nasty at its core, humorless and discouraging.

For me, playing with words to form sentences in an attempt to evoke anything from laughter to sadness in a reader is “magical”, and I rarely use that word. Writing is simply another way to make thoughts available to a reader. I don’t believe I will pen the next great American novel, “dull” writing is subjective, and I am certain I end up with grammatical errors in my writing. But, I still try.

I started blogging less than a year ago and up to that point had hardly read one, much less considered writing one. With encouragement from a good friend, I gave it a start. As an adult I’ve never taken a writing class and in high school English I was at best mediocre. So why do I write? Because I want to. That should be answer enough for the judgmental blogger.

When I have thoughts to express, nothing stops the freight train of desire to write them down. I imagine everyone who writes experiences the same at their own levels. If one’s writing could use some pep or have the grammar refined a bit, those things can be remedied. Writers can learn to amp up their styles and they can become more familiar with grammatical rules. Those things can be learned. What can’t be taught is desire. People who need to write come pre-loaded with the desire to try. And so we write.

I sent my comments to the blogger expecting to hear nothing back really. I simply felt the need to counter a little of his discouragement. That freight train of desire to write my response just couldn’t be stopped! In less than an hour he replied. I hesitated for a second to read what he’d written, but the optimist in me thought why not, it could be he’s given some of his overly critical attitude a second thought! I clicked on his response and read the one line from him:

“Your comments contained two grammatical errors.”

He didn’t even tell me what they were!

It didn’t really matter that he’d paid no attention to the point I’d hoped to get across.

But, I tried.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under blog, blogger, blogging, writing

Granola and Bear It

According to its wrapper, the granola bar in my hand promised to help me “Start the Day in a Whole New Way”. I took one bite and immediately felt a sharp pain in one of the molars in my lower jaw.

The wrapper was right. I had certainly started the day in a whole new way.

My tongue told me the shape of my tooth was different now. A small part had broken away but it hurt for only a second. Without the motivation of pain, I decided to simply tell the dentist about it during my next visit. Frankly, once I became used to the different shape of my tooth, I forgot all about it.

Until three weeks later.

That night something felt a bit different around the tooth. There was the hint of an ache, some puffiness in my jaw, and my cheek felt slightly warm. I went to bed having decided I might need to call the dentist if I felt a little pain.

Around 2:00 in the morning I felt a little pain.

And by “a little pain” I mean I awoke to the sensation of a red-hot poker being plunged mercilessly into my jawbone, hammered in further by hydraulic machinery, and all the while being doused with gasoline and set on fire. Beneath my jaw, just below the obviously infected tooth, was a swollen area warm to the touch and very painful. One minute I was in agony, the next minute the pain disappeared, but it came and went often during the night. While having pain-free minutes I drifted to sleep only to be awakened by the evil flaming jack hammer attacking my inner tooth.

Thankfully, the dentist could see me first thing in the morning. The dental hygienist took an x-ray the minute I sat in the chair. As the dentist entered the room he glanced at the x-ray on the wall.

“You’re probably in pain.” he said as nonchalantly as if commenting on a lovely sparrow singing in the windowsill.

“You’re probably right.” I responded. “Can you just patch the tooth or whatever it is you do?”

For some reason he laughed.

I had never felt such pain. When there was no pain, there was the fear of pain. I couldn’t think of anything that could strike as much fear in me as awaiting the next onslaught of pain.

“You need a root canal.” he said.

Until I heard that.

My mind flooded with memories of horror stories related to me by friends about their own root canal experiences. At that moment, the demon pain in my tooth awakened and in seconds it felt as though I were being kicked in the jaw by an angry, and possibly rabid, mule.

“Just do it then. Do it now.” I said. “And hurry.” I was starting this day in a whole new way. I began to sweat.

He laughed again.

The dental hygienist set to work to prepare me for the procedure. She fastened a tiny useless paper bib around my neck, patted my shoulder, and wished me luck.

How comforting.

The dentist hovered over my open mouth and began to apply a numbing gel to the spots where he would then inject my gum with even more numbing drug to deaden the tooth.

“It tastes like bubble gum, doesn’t it?” he asked in a tone that indicated he was already sure of the answer.

“It tastes like potpourri and dirt.” I corrected.

He laughed, hopefully at my comment and not at his actions, because he then jabbed my gum with the first of several needles. After a few injections around the hateful tooth, he waited for the numbing drug to take effect. When the side of my face felt like a slab of liver hanging from my head, I knew I was ready. This would soon be over, I thought.

I thought incorrectly.

After two hours of his drilling, scraping, poking, and suctioning, and my gagging, drooling, coughing, and moaning, he suddenly sat very quietly with his hands still wedged in my mouth. I would have asked what he was waiting for but my jaws were held open by what felt like the tire chock of a Boeing 747. I stopped counting the hairs in his nose and gave a questioning grunt.

“I’m just draining the infection.” he explained. “Once I drill down far enough into the tooth it’s like popping the cork on a champagne bottle and it all flows right out!”

Nice, I thought. Cheers.

He finished his handiwork, the dental hygienist dove into my mouth up to her elbows to finish something, and they sat me up.

“There you go.” the dentist said.

“Hey,” I managed to say with a numb tongue, “that wasn’t so bad, but glad you’re finished.”

“Finished?” he began, “That was only the first part. You need to come back at the end of the week for me to do the second part.”

There was a part two. I would have to start the day in a whole new way yet again. I began to sweat.

“Before you come back for the second part, why don’t you come in for a routine cleaning.” the dentist asked as he signed something handed to him by a passing coworker.

I pointed to my mouth. “But you’re in mid-construction in there. Isn’t that like washing the car while you’re still finishing up the body work?”

He laughed loudly.

“Just come back at the end of the week then,” he said, “but don’t worry, the worst part is behind you.”

“No, the worst part is before me.” I said. “I still have to pay for this.”

He laughed loudly again.

I returned later in the week for part two. The dentist began the injections to make my tooth properly numb. After several shots, he said we would now wait until they took effect. Remembering the last time when I had to wait in the chair for almost twenty minutes in order to reach that point, I tapped the dentist on the arm as he walked away. He stopped and looked at me.

“Do you get paid by the hour or something?. Is that why there’s been no effort to make a numbing drug that works any faster?” I asked.

He laughed.

In time, my gum reached peak numbness. Once again I spent two hours on my head in the chair, a street lamp hung inches from my face, and the dentist and dental hygienist performed their square dance in my mouth. When all was said and done, they wiped two hours worth of drool from my numb chin and sat me up.

“Well,” the dentist began as he sorted his tiny medieval tools, “you should be good now. Anything else we can do for you while you’re here?”

“Yes.” I said. “Could you go back in and drill deep enough to remove a kidney? I’ll need to sell it on eBAY to pay what my insurance won’t cover on this tooth.”

He laughed as he walked away and I heard him tell the girl at the front desk that he would “do this one differently”, but I paid little attention. I used the restroom and upon returning to the front desk I asked for the bill. I began to sweat.

The receptionist handed me the invoice and below the itemized column full of numbers and codes was a grand total. To the left of that printed amount was another total, hand written in ink. A significantly lower grand total.

“What does this mean?” I asked.

The receptionist explained that the dentist had given me the staff discount.

“Why?” I asked, still puzzled.

“He said he enjoyed your humor each time you came in.” she answered. “And that you had a point about how long it takes for the numbing injections to work?” She was clearly not sure what that meant, but she assumed I did.

I looked around for the dentist in order to thank him, but he had already crawled inside the next patient’s mouth.

“Tell him I really appreciate that.” I said.

“Sure will.” she responded. “He said to have a patient who actually joked through an entire root canal certainly did start his day in a whole new way.

I began to sweat.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under dentist, dentistry, Humor, life, tooth

Giving is for the Birds

I read the simple message while driving to work that morning. It was quite a few years ago but I remember the church’s sign: “Give To Others – Sacrifice” was its straightforward directive. As I pondered those words, I noticed another sign at a fast-food place across the street.

“Try Our Blueberry Biscuits”

Those words required no pondering.

I would indeed try them. Having ample time before work, I would even go inside to sit as I enjoyed their flaky goodness. I could smell the biscuits when I walked in to place my order. On a large rack behind the cashier, someone from the kitchen drizzled icing generously over a dozen or so freshly baked blueberry delights. I ordered two.

After all, the sign had clearly indicated plural.

My mouth watered as I sat at a table between a window and a row of potted palms. I spread my blueberry biscuits before me, smelled their warm icing, and heard their plump blueberries call to me. I noticed movement on the other side of the potted palms but excitement over my biscuits kept me from looking up. Just as I was about to pick up the first biscuit, the movement stopped and I heard a woman’s voice.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked.

Not sure I had correctly heard such a question, I wiped the anticipatory biscuit drool from my mouth and waited for a second.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked again.

I turned to see a frowning elderly woman staring through the potted palms. I assumed she might be homeless when I saw her. Her clothes were frayed and wrinkled, and although her hair was pulled neatly back and held in place by a clean red ribbon, she was otherwise very disheveled and dirty. She carried a soiled tote bag on her arm.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked me for the third time. She frowned a bit harder.

I admit that I slid my blueberry biscuits away from her and towards the window on the far side of the table before I responded.

“No Ma’am”. I said. “Definitely not.” I spread an extra concealing napkin over my biscuits.

I thought she might leave once I cleared up that little misidentification, but she lingered quietly by the potted palms. I kept the biscuits covered and willed my salivary glands to cease working. She edged closer to my table. I pushed the biscuits closer to the window.

She sat down across from me.

My biscuits cooled, my mouth watered, and guilt crept over me as I remembered the first message I had read that morning. “Give to Others – Sacrifice”.

Well, great. Why did I have to see the church’s sign just before being shown the door to blueberry deliciousness! Oh well. I removed one biscuit from its hiding place and slid it towards the elderly woman.

“You can have this.” I said.

She said absolutely nothing but took the biscuit, wrapped it tightly in the napkin, and slipped it into her tote bag. She still frowned. Not even the slightest smile.

There. I had “given to others”. I felt better, she had eagerly taken the biscuit, and as soon as she got up I could still enjoy the one I had left. I could smell it there under the napkin.

She didn’t get up.

“You have a good day, Ma’am.” I said, thinking she might move along.

She still didn’t get up. She frowned at the lump under my napkin.

I had already checked my watch several times and knew I had to get to work soon. I just wanted to eat my blueberry biscuit! I had done what the church sign said. I had “given to others”!

Well, the sign had said a little more than that, I thought as the elderly woman frowned persistently.

I uncovered my second biscuit and handed it to her, saying nothing. She took the second as eagerly as the first. She wrapped it quickly, slipped it into her tote bag, and walked to the door to go outside. She frowned all the while.

No matter, I thought. I could simply pick up another biscuit, or two, on my way out.

“We stopped making blueberry biscuits twenty minutes ago.” the cashier said. “No more back there.”

My stomach growled. So did I. One of my biscuits handed to the elderly woman was “giving”. Both of my biscuits handed to her, now that was “sacrifice”! But, she would enjoy them I kept telling myself, as I imagined her biting into the icing covered blueberry treats.

As I headed to my car, I heard their wings flapping before I saw them. Pigeons. So many pigeons flying in that they blocked my view of what attracted them. Then, through an opening in the flock, I saw what they were after.

An elderly woman with a tote bag. She crumbled and tossed piece after piece of blueberry biscuit into the air as pigeons scrambled to eat them.

She was finally smiling.

Stuart M. Perkins

106 Comments

Filed under charity, help, Humor, life