Thursday, March 22, 2012

Heard it in a Love Song

Waking up a few minutes before the alarm clock that morning, he patiently waited for the pain to stop.  He had slept the night through and the pain is what woke him up.  After many years of insomnia and restlessness, the old man just wanted to enjoy the fact that he could sleep a full night.  His sides hurt when he lay on them too long.  His back stiffened up when he lay on it, and his breathing became labored and forced when he attempted to sleep on his ample stomach.  That morning the daily struggle had an intensity to it that nearly made him weep.

            His dreams had been wonderful that night.  Love and friendships in the real world always seemed so much better in the Land of Nod.  He could spend time with this girl or that girl and soak up the wonder of beauty and love.  His buddies and he would always have kick-ass times chasing women and riding motorcycles.  He could see the end of the rainbow in his dreams, he could actually find the pot of gold sitting there right next to the leprechaun that squabbled and fussed with him before losing the treasure to the usurper from the realm of the real.  Vast adventures were commonplace when he accomplished Rapid Eye Movement in the midst of his slumber.

            Given that, the real pain he felt that morning, and any morning for that matter, came when the physical pain obliterated the nostalgia of the night’s sub cranial ambrosia.  Thinking that, he laughed, through the anguish of his physical condition, at the freaking wordiness of the thought.  How had it happened that he used that kind of vocabulary in his everyday thought and action?  Did he not come from a simple existence where words simply conveyed information?  He continued to ruminate on this while the throbbing subsided.  It worked every morning.  He would simply think about something else besides the pain until the pain condensed itself to an acceptable level.  Try as he might, that morning his venture into subliminal deception would not work. The pain increased, as he lay motionless.  The day before had seen him helping a friend to move.  Lifting the furniture and boxes, against doctors’ orders, created this morning’s angst.  He had not been able to turn his friend down.  He began loathing the pain as the tears began.  Unable to prevent the weeping, he let it happen.  He did not regret the action of helping his friend, but he did resent his body for its weakness and betrayal. 

            Momentary respite when the alarm went off and the ridiculous noise of the morning deejays blasted him out of his ruminations.  The volume blared louder than usual.  He remembered that he had turned it up to listen to music the night before while he sat at his desk and worked.  The nonsense interrupted his anguish temporarily, and the song that followed ended it.  An old song from a simpler time drifted into his ears from an old band of a country nature. Back in the day, as the kids say, this band was a part of a musical genre call “Country Rock.”  The album this song came off had always been on his list of “Desert Island” records.  That is, if you found yourself on a deserted island with no hope of rescue, what five albums would you want to have with you, but it could only be just five.  Those records would be the only music you would ever listen to for the rest of your life.

            Listening to the song blasting out of the radio reminded him of the reason this particular group of ballads would be with him for eternity.  Her name was Angel.  Back in the miracle days, she had captured his entire being.  Long black hair and a face of Semitic demeanor still came to him every day.  She drifted into his life when he rode with the Club.  Not a period that elicited many good thoughts.  His past was the reason he hurt so much today.  He rode with a motorcycle gang that lived a brutal and desperate lifestyle.  Many a night saw him in some emergency room being patched back together after a battle in some saloon or grog shop.  Fast and mean was the order of the day, and he embraced that way of life with vehemence and devotion to the Code.  The Code being that the patch on the back of his cutoff jean coat meant everything and the rest of life proved inconsequential to the honoring of his oath to the Code.  His fidelity to that convention always had him hurt or sore.  One night, sitting in a rock club listening to this very song, he met her.  She walked across the dance floor and stood next to him, rubbing her ample bosom against his arm.  She just smiled, and told him that she wanted to buy him a beer.

At first, it seemed as if she was just another distraction, just something to fill the time between this thing and the next.  Women had always just been a way to kill time while he waited for the next task the club set him to.  He had a definite skill at some things of an administrative nature, and an anger grown from abuse as a child.  The club used him to direct some of the harsher parts of their business.  Not what you could call a Fortune 500 type of institution, the club nevertheless prospered from the delivery of service and materials related to human vice.  Some might call it organized crime, but they just thought of it as entrepreneurship.  That is, after the old man told them what the word “entrepreneurship” meant.  

The girl never once acted right.  At least, that is, right by the old man’s standards.  “Acting right” meant shutting her mouth and doing what she was told.  A simple task, he thought, but one she never once delivered.  He brought her home on his bike that night, and she slept on the couch.  When he told her she would have to pay her way, she went to the kitchen and came back to the couch with a butcher knife.  Drunk and high as he was that night, the old man simply went to bed.

The next morning he woke to the smell of coffee, eggs, and bacon.  She stood in the kitchen wearing a tube top and a pair of panties.  She smiled and told him to sit down.  As she set a cup of coffee in front of him, she kissed his forehead and went about cooking the rest of the meal.  After, she told him to join her in the shower.  Another disappointment in that the only thing they did was wash.  As soon as she finished, she toweled off, put on one of his t-shirt, and went about collecting his laundry and cleaning the house.  He returned to the kitchen for another cup of coffee.  While he sat there, she came in and taking him by the hand, led him to a chair under the tree in the backyard.  She began brushing his elbow length hair.  She told him that fresh air would help his hair to dry.  It felt like heaven.

That is how, ultimately, he changed.  This strange girl moved in and gradually eased him out of the lifestyle of an outlaw biker.  Not an easy task, but she patiently waited while he slowly left the lifestyle behind.  It happened over a period of time.  Several times, he’d come home beat to hell and in need of a doctor.  He refused the emergency room, and she taught herself how to minister to his injuries. One time, he came home with a bullet in him that required a trip to the hospital.  She sat with him in intensive care, and when he came home, she went to the clubhouse to inform the other members of his tribe that the old man was retired.  She lay his patch down, respectfully, and announced that if any of them came to see the old man, they would die.  She never described how that might happen, but the hardened bikers in the club believed her for some reason.  They never tried to see him again.

He lay in bed laughing to himself as he thought of what the scene might have looked like.  Every bit of 5’0” the girl never spoke a mean word.  To think that his compadres would be warned off by this slip of a girl made him laugh at the stupidity of the lifestyle, and the stupidity of being a part of such insanity. When he healed enough to go back to work, she brought him an application to drive a truck for a rock quarry.  He looked at it, and at the look in her eyes, and filled it out. 

He got the job, and never looked back. His life got simpler, but not much less dangerous.  He wrecked his bike that next spring and had to lay up in a cast for near half a year.  Losing his job made her have to go out to work.  She went to work in a nursing home, and then to school to be a Registered Nurse.  He remembered the day she got her nursing license; she took him home and made love to him for the first time.  She told him to go back to school and he did. He became a schoolteacher, and loved every minute of the twenty-five years he taught.  He taught reading, and astronomy.  When he retired, his students gave him a plaque for being the kindest most loving teacher in the universe.  Certainly this was a far cry from the angry, violent, man that rode motorcycles too fast, and treated women as if they were property.  
She told him to marry her, and he did.  She told him to get her pregnant, and he did.  She told him to love her no matter what, and he did.  She told him many things, and he did them all. 
The reverie worked.  He slowly began to feel better.  He arose from his bed and looked out the window at the rising sun.  It would be a good day to sit under the tree.  She would like that.  He had to make her some breakfast first.  He would wait to brush her hair until they got outside.  She liked the fresh air.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Póg mo thóin is Éireannach mé!

“Oh but don’t you know? Every Irishman is his own King!” The Fighting O'Flynn (Universal-Internatlanal), 1949 

There is an event that I wish to regale you with, a tale of the greatest great boon to humanity – that of being proudly able to announce that I am a true representative of the greatest species in history…the Irish. Equally adroit with a saber, a rapier, a shillelagh, or a kiss, the Irish have a special place in our world. On this, the day after the supposed feast of St Patrick I find it apropos to dispel the rumors that abound each March 17th. I am, as is said, “As Irish as Paddy’s Pig.” I am of proud Irish-American heritage with a rich family history which, I am also proud to say, I am most aware of and revel in.

 My family history can be positively traced back to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 where the progenitor of my clan (the Ó Raghallaigh ) gave his life standing shoulder to shoulder with the great Ard Rí na hÉireann, Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig (Brian Boru). Prior to that, the plot thickens and gets sketchy with a mixture of fact girdled with legend. Much of this period is not certain except in this Irishman’s heart. My family’s founding dates to the reign of Conn Cétchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles) circa 116-161 AD. 

 This coincides with the rule of Marcus Aurelius of Rome. The Roman’s never conquered Ireland and it has been said that this was due to a perception that there was no economic value to Éirinn. The prevaricator in me with Bard like talents prefers to think that the Roman’s had better sense then to mess with Ireland. They had no desire to have their posterior end’s booted for the first time in history. It must have been similar to the sentiment the English had on 9 July 1921(yes you are correct; I am not a great fan of the English).

 Having given my bona fides on the topic, I would like to expand on what it is to be Irish and how annoying it is to go to certain restaurants every March 17th and be offered Corned Beef and Cabbage (an American construct) to be washed down with perfectly good beer that has suffered the indignity of being doused with green food dye. A travesty if ever there was one. Envisioned are my progenitors mimicking gyroscopes within the confines of their eternal resting places. 

Let us begin with the saint the day is named for…Patrick (or more correctly Pádraig). A historical figure of English or Scottish descent he was captured by Irish brigand/pirates and forced to herd sheep for six years. While sitting on a hillside watching the herd, he had a vision that there was a different life for him. He stood up, threw down his shepherd accoutrements and walked 200 miles where he found a ship that got him out of Ireland. He came back a number of years later with the divine purpose (again from a vision) to convert Ireland from paganism to Christianity. He, as the legend states, drove the snakes from Ireland. In fact, any snakes in Ireland had already disappeared during the Ice Age; (

 "One of the famous legends, of course, is that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland," says Irish historian Harold Calvert. "The legend about the driving of the snakes may, in fact, really symbolize the driving out of evil," 

There is nothing in any literature that legitimatizes the practice of getting commode hugging drunk on his feast day. St. Patrick's Day in Ireland has almost always been a principally religious festival. Until the 1970s, pubs were required by law to close on March 17. Given this fact, I believe the sainted gentleman himself would have preferred it if all went to church and praised God instead of trying to glorify a simple priest for doing what his faith told him to do. That faith was humble and eloquent, as stated in his second prayer: 

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me, 
Christ before me,
Christ beside me, 
Christ to win me, 
Christ to comfort and restore me, 
Christ beneath me, 
Christ above me, 
Christ in quiet, 
Christ in danger, 
Christ in hearts of all that love me, 
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

So much of what we know about the Feast of St. Pádraig is shrouded in folklore and mystery. We are a race that holds their Seanchaí in special esteem. The rich history of the Emerald Isle is much more a thing of beauty then the obligatory display of drunkenness and sloth that the feast has become. The vision of Patrick standing on a hill beside a fire, in defiance of a pagan king’s command speaks to me more than the Chicago River running green. The legend that tells of that same pagan king converting to Christianity is a lesson in perseverance, humility, and hope. I like that Patrick taught about Christ and not emerald barley and hops, or the liquid foundation of John Jameson’s family legacy.

Curse me for an anarchist. Berate the traitorous ramblings of a man who no longer drinks of the grain. Accuse me of vile disrespect for my ancestors. Rebuke me for the intolerance I display. Reprimand me for killing then spirit of the day. But for God and Pádraig’s sake, love me because I am Irish! I normally close with a wish for peace for all my readers, today I will leave you with a blessing:

  “Go gcoinní Dia i mbois a láimhe thú, agus nár dhúna sé a dhorn go teann choíche.”