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Mary and Joseph…

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drone

… toodle quietly down early morning Martin Street of Penticton.

To an overhead drone, they would appear as small ants searching out scraps of food to return to the nest.

Mary is well in front, treading swiftly in her motorized scooter chair; a pair of worn teddy bears bob like crazy marionettes attached to the back of her seat as she breaks her mother’s back running over sidewalk cracks.

Her beady grey eyes are focussed on the walkway and the direction of travel.

White tangles of unkempt hair, untouched by a brush or comb this morning, catch errant whiffs of air movement like little fireworks going off in all directions. The studied concentration on her face leaves you with an impression of a pilgrimage.

They enter and emerge from long, dark shadows pasted across the quiet road by Ponderosa Pine and Norway Maple scattered along their route, doors opening and closing.

The air is fresh and applesauce delicious this early in the day before the dry Okanagan heat settles into town by 10 am. Light chirps of flickers and chickadees sift downwards from the branches above.

Rotund Joe slowly plods, like a proud Clydesdale workhorse, well behind Mary. His right hand behind his back grasps the handle of a child’s plastic wagon filled with sundry items that are incongruous with daily life … thrift store ingredients that may or not make it to the shelves.

Mary and Joe are no Okanagan Casabella Princess and Prince. Almost comic book-like, standing next to each other they look like the fruit-shaped salt and pepper shakers gift we received many years ago.

apple salt

Joe – the salt – is a round, red apple with a warm but mischievous grin… plump and elf’ish jolly.

Mary is the matching pepper shaker, not narrow or small on the top but definitely fanning out pear-like below her waist. She sports a narrow pinched mouth that accordions wide open when she smiles; a smile that comes often and readily.

I shudder when I see the state of their clothing, the ripped track pants, untucked stained shirts and polyester jackets that the Salvation Army wouldn’t deem acceptable to sell. Ketchup stains on two year-olds are kind of cute but on 70 year-olds it’s just kinda sad.

I don’t know where they live, this sweet couple.

I don’t know where their morning journey began.

I don’t know where or when they met.

Children? I suspect not, but I haven’t a clue.

I’ve seen their daily show played out on many many occasions as I’ve driven to my volunteer job at the local soup kitchen, and even at other times while just going about some chore of my own in town.

They arrive early to the front entryway of the Soupateria and sit on the wooden benches outside, chatting to themselves and other regular stragglers whose main social appointment of the day begins and ends right here.

soupateria

There are so many troubled souls that come through the doors of the soup kitchen – all ages, all shapes and colours, all genders – it can be heartbreaking to observe and think of the stories that led to the moment at hand.

Lately, I’m finding the crop of soup kitchen users are a strangely crabby lot compared to those of the past 2 years I’ve worked there. I’ve been checking the night sky more than usual for full moon phenomenon but to no avail.

What I really love about Mary and Joe is that no matter the traumas or tragedies they’ve lived – I’m certain there have been many breakages – they treat me and everyone they encounter like a long lost friend.

A friendly, gentle warmth exudes from their inner souls.

Any exchange with these two and you’re almost certain to walk away with a smile in your heart. Kindness sloughs from them like the dust off Charlie Brown’s buddy Pig Pen.

Each day when they reach the front of the line at the serving window of the Soupateria, through his stubbly grey beard, the first question Joe asks of the volunteer behind the counter is,

And how are you today?

I’ll look over and it’s like bright sunshine emerging from foreboding clouds.

It’s not an empty courtesy to hear him say this.

He enunciates the word YOU like no one else matters in the whole world. Then he listens carefully for the response.

After the friendly exchange, he chirps, “I’ll have egg salad on brown today please!”

A few minutes later without fail, Mary, at the end of her soup and sandwich lunch, always shuffles gingerly to the serving window and in her muffled, child-like voice, calls out a cheery thanks to the volunteers behind the counter.

I smile thinking of the holy irony of their names and then seeing Mary in deep focus, mounted on a small scooter on her diurnal sacred journey to Bethlehem.

Mary and Joe are pitifully stunted and incomplete by most of our societal measurements and yet… I see them as superheroes.

I don’t like the Silver Screen superheroes so much, the Batmans, the Supermans, the Wonder Womans and so on. Give me Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and a Rom-Com any day.

The superheroes I prefer, the ones I truly admire, quietly walk the backstreets of our world, not striving to save humanity but somehow, in their inimitable way, giving others an uplift without even trying.

They’re the ones in anonymous costumes, no flowing capes, no stretch lycra bodysuits: the Marys and Joes on the street, the Chris and Lauraines in the soup kitchen, the Davids and Patricks in the Greek Restaurants, the Ricardos and Arturos who patiently, humorously teach me Spanish… all those who give freely without expectation of wealth or fame or even a pat on the back.

Because we spend so much time living in the illusions and challenges of our own lives we forget, often not noticing the beauty and strength of others we encounter day-to-day.

Mary and Joseph? Simple, plain folk.

They’re out there with gentle smiles, filling the loneliness of their’s and other’s lives… one another’s peaceful, green oasis in the desert where the horizon is limitless and sometimes painful.

Always with a smile…

superhero pee

SUPERHEROES really ARE just like the rest of us…

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Get Paid. Get Laid. Lose Weight.

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Larry SuperHero

I’ve got to be very careful because sometimes I feel like I am a SuperHero.

It suggests power that needs to be respected and restrained.

………………….

You know how when you become a Mom or a Dad and you lose your identity? It’s like you’ve had your name de-listed from the human registry and now you’re just “Erin’s Dad”. Wherever you go in your world, people refer to you by your relationship to your children.

After blogging here for close to 2 and a half years, my given name Lawrence aka Larry is transforming into Man on the Fringe or That Blog Guy, or as my friend Pam mocks me, Man with the Frills.

When I started out in the blogosphere, I had maybe 5 or 10 visits to my site daily. Bit by bit, the numbers crept up and by the end of last year, my daily average was about 25 visits.

Now it’s usually in the range of 60-100 each day which is tiny by blog-world standards, but for me, it’s pretty significant. I really appreciate you and everyone else who sets aside a few minutes to read my stuff.

I myself pass by acres of articles and e-mails every day, so I know that it isn’t easy to attract eyeballs in today’s multimedia, ultra-connected world.  Dreaming up titles, searching for evocative photos, and using colourful language are eyeball-eliciting elements that I put to work.

My first blog post ...

My first blog post attempt …

By now, most of the people I encounter who remotely know me, are aware that I write a blog.

Some of those same people I’ve mentioned in my posts because they’ve impressed me with their extraordinary skills or talents in areas such as creativity or persistence, or their ability to inspire me to invest wisely or to stretch and keep fit. I’m always on the lookout for everyday SuperHeroes.

Anyway, I’m just beginning to stumble onto the realization that I have a power.

It’s the power of the pen, er, keyboard. Frankly, I’m not convinced that it’s truly mightier than the sword ’cause I know I don’t want to encounter some swarthy tattoo-laden hood with a sword in a dark alley and my only weapons are some hard-edged words.

That’s just scary. I don’t want to see my smelly bowels unravelled like a lengthy snake on the pavement in front of me.

However, I know from life’s experience that words do have an impact on people and their lives.

I recognize that I’m connecting with you occasionally when I run into you on the street or we’re chatting on the phone and you say, “Hey Larry, I read your post about “Paid Sex Workers for the Handicapped (this is gonna be a future post!) … it made me think of my poor friend Peter trapped in a wheelchair who’s yearning for an intimate encounter. By the way, I think you should write a blog about …insert your pet peeve or best-loved idea here… “.

I think this is the finest compliment you can give a blogger. It’s a beautiful gift that you’ve wrapped up and given to me. I honestly glow when this happens.

Blogger-gift

It tells me  you believe my words are worthy and strong enough that I’ll put my superpower to use and tell a story or represent something that you feel passionate about.

I have to be honest here. Most times I don’t use your main idea because it just doesn’t speak to me somehow. But I always try to find some hook in what you’ve said to build a story that works for me. And, of course, after writing 130+ blog posts on a weekly basis, finding a story idea that interests me can sometimes be a challenge.

I’ve been told that if you want to build an audience, powerful Blogging SuperHeroes expound on one of these three sure-fire topics that seduce and charm readersThere are a lot of approaches I can use to build a story that revolve around these 3 gems:

GET PAID, GET LAID, LOSE WEIGHT

  • GET PAID: A few of my blog posts have figured on how I go about investing my modest savings.

I have a keen interest in investing money and attempting to build a mini-fortune. Because I’ve not been hugely career driven – translate this to say I’ve never earned a huge income – my issues with money have revolved around taking the modest $$ that I have and saving at least 10% (just like The Wealthy Barber told me)… and more importantly, investing the dollars so that I can enjoy the freedom to pursue all of my ADHD interests. I usually spend about an hour each day reading and researching possible investments, normally in the area of high quality companies found on the Toronto or New York exchanges. Tim Hortons and Disney keep my financial wheels spinning … I’ll hit on this topic again, trust me!

  • GET LAID: I began this blog site with the notion that I would write about the similarities and differences between men and women. I’ve spent an entire career surrounded by a moat filled with bright women. I figure I have an insight or two that Joe Blow the Plumber lacks – of course, plumbing is no longer a man’s domain any more than cooking dinner is a woman’s.

The whole veiled background that bobs to the surface over and over when peering at issues about men and women comes down to getting laid. I usually just refer to it as plain old sex, but the underlay, the true bottom line, is where, when and how we end up between the sheets.

Human nature is deeply … I said deeply … imbedded in the intimate connection between our brains and our naughty bits. We hear about it in our political, entertainment and sports stories every single day.

And so you may have noted that I hit on this area with some frequency in my writing. Well, you can probably lay a few dollars down on the Vegas gambling tables that I’ll be expounding about this again sometime in the near future. I’m a man, and gender laws have proven that we males think about this stuff multiple times each minute. Who am I to break the law?

  • LOSE WEIGHT: Hmmm, just how many of us are totally contented when we step on the weigh scales? If you always have a serene and satisfied smile on your face during your regular weigh-ins, please feel free to ditch out here and move onto someone else’s post, I have nothing further to say to you.

I’ve lived my life on the knife’s edge of muffin tops (do we call men’s swollen bellies muffin tops?). The struggle of enjoying the sweet bliss of delicious, mouthwatering foods while keeping their caloric tonnage from remaining with me on a longer-term basis is as perennial as the moon waxing and waning, the sun rising and setting, Lindsay Lohan entering and exiting rehab.

I admit I am a weak person when food is within my grasp. I love See-Food. So, by default, my writings in this area have largely revolved around exercise. Self-control and initiative for me are mostly limited to battling calorie excess with running and swimming and biking and TRX’ing and weight-training and yoga’ing and tennis’ing and boot camping and spinning …….

Most days each week, you’ll find me involved in some sort of physical combat against calorie creep and so I write about this theme while inhaling my 3,000 calorie snacks.

……………………………..

 

By now, you can see I’m just an average everyday blogging SuperHero.

Thanks for helping me keep my cape pressed and intact by telling me that, like Sally Field on Oscar night, you sometimes like me and what I have to say.

I’m gonna try to keep this knowledge from hungrily consuming my humility, once I figure how to unleash my word power to get out of this damned phone booth.

Gibraltar -- Stuck in a British Phone Booth

Them’s Writin’ Words … A Heartbeat of Harry Hero Worship

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Photo of Harry CHAPIN

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STATEMENT: Writing blog posts is easy.

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Well, not easy… no, not easy at all. I’ve written 130 posts in the past 2 and a half years, and not one was a simple, mindless endeavour, even if you think my compositions about baginas or castration are mindless!

Dogy Balls

I only write about matters that interest me – if the subject doesn’t catch my intrigue, the words will NOT come –  while at the same time, quarrying a nugget or two in the slag pile that somehow, hopefully, will be meaningful to you in your life.

My ego doesn’t fare well if no one reads a word I publish … yes, I NEED YOU!

But when I compare the mental effort and time it takes to write a blog entry versus piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that makes up a musical song, it just seems easy.

Writing blogs and composing music are comparable to the striking differences in playing guitar and playing piano. If you’ve tried both, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Writing a blog post – like playing guitar – is a singular, one-tracked effort. Putting one word after another is a focussed undertaking where your total concentration goes into moving forward in a single direction.

It’s kind of like becoming a killer kisser. Your entirety is devoted to the touch, taste … all of those sensations that cook up into making one other set of soft, sweet lips happy and well looked after.

But writing a song? Whole different breed of animal.

Songsmithing is a complex of musical melody, harmony and lyrics which is more like combining the left and right hand in piano. Songwriting is a boudoir threesome (like I would know!); there are parts running off in all directions. It’s pleasurable for sure (again, like I would know!), but it makes your head spin.

Sorry Ladies, but I've just GOTTA finish writing this song ... the BIG MALE FAIL

“Sorry Ladies, but I’ve just GOTTA finish writing this song” … the BIG MALE FAIL!

 

There are two independent thoughts running side-by-side inside your head and fingertips. Through exhaustive practice, you learn to separate them sufficiently to then weave them back together in a cohesive whole that makes a deliciously fragrant sonata.

If I want to write songs that are meaningful to me and – just like my blog writing – hopefully contain a snippet of something that has meaning for you too, the formulas that commercialized music depend on just don’t work very well.

Which, happily for you, brings me to the point of today’s sermon … avoiding the cliche in songwriting.

Songwriting cliche threatens to swallow us whole in today’s musical marketplace and it drives me crazy sometimes.

Don’t you – maybe even occasionally – ask yourself when listening to a song on the radio, “Who the hell let that DOG out?”. The music, the lyrics are a dog’s breakfast and still it smuggled itself past a recording studio, a bunch of music-studio talking heads, and a radio station programmer. ARGGGGG!

But there are and always have been exceptions.

One of my lifelong songwriting heroes – I have many musical heroes, but probably none as emotionally resonant – has been Harry Chapin.

Harry perished in an auto accident in the late 1970’s while only 39 years old. You might know Harry for his powerfully evocative song: Cats in the Cradle.

But Cats in the Cradle was just a miniscule sample of Harry’s ability. Harry didn’t write or sing cliches and I loved him for it.

Harry was a husband, father, writer, singer, a supporter of social causes, and most impressively, a funny and talented storyteller.

Today, 33 years after his death, I still think about him from time to time – I miss Harry like a treasured friend or brother who left behind a huge hole in my existence in his wake.

Harry had the ability to find a tiny fragment of the joy or sorrow in the life of a common man (woman) and magnify it into an opus that pierced directly into our hearts.

Over and over, Chapin sketched universal human stories in just a few short verses and choruses.

It’s an amazing skill akin to Ernest Hemingway’s famous brief 6-word story:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

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A few examples of Harry’s songs and the stories they told:

  • Mr. Tanner, the drycleaner, who tried opera-style singing at Carnegie Hall, just once, and was cruelly rejected by the reviewers.
  • the lonely midnight watchman in A Better Place to Be who desperately craves the love of someone, and discovers that he isn’t alone in his struggle to be held dear by others.
  • the former lovers who accidentally meet in a Taxi, and sadly realize that their young dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they hoped.
  • the aging FM disc jockey who’s life lies in crumbles from chasing fame and fortune in WOLD
  • the truck driver rushing to get home to his “warm-breathed lover” after a long road trip in 30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

He told us stories, and like Steinbeck or Austen, his yarns entered our hearts and made us weep or smile with the fortunes of the characters he forged in his mind.

Harry Chapin, so long gone now, was a musical and storytelling saint, an inspiration to anyone who longs to tell a story.

Who of us doesn’t love a story from the sweet, innocent nights where we lay in our comfy beds listening to Daddy’s voice reading from a book, to sitting in concert halls where Stuart McLean or Garrison Keillor recite homespun yarns to us?

That was Harry … Master Storyteller. I miss you Harry… and…

I’m gonna write a blog post about you because it’s so much easier than composing a song. But one day …

 

 

 

HarryChapin

WHO Wants To Be A Hero …

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Superheroes

I wanna be a hero.

Not a superhero like the costumed wonder-boys and -girls in spandex-clad movies.

Although if I wanted to drive my kids crazy, my costume would just be a simple Speedo lycra bathing suit – winsome little curly hairs sprouting from the edges – and maybe a big bright red S painted on my chest.

Better yet, I’ll have the flashy S tattooed on so I don’t have to waste the extra minute painting a letter on every time a superhero emergency shit-case hits the fan.

I’ve never been a fan-boy of the superhero movie genre … I prefer REAL LIFE HEROES… give me Terry Fox instead of Batman, give me Stephen King instead of Spiderman, give me Rosa Parks instead of Wonder Woman, give me Jackie Robinson instead of Superman… you get my idea.

Superman guy

This hairy-S might be better than a tattoo until I decide if I’m meant to be a HERO…

The reason I’m thinking about this right now is because lately we’ve been having discussions during spin class about super-druggie-cyclist Lance Armstrong, one of my publically avowed heroes, drug-fiend or drug-free.

Hero-osity is a Hard Job

I can be pretty forgiving of heroes’ goofs and gaffes because they’re under a huge amount of pressure. Being a hero isn’t easy; it’s like a well-meaning politician trying to save the world but being jabbed at with Zulu-warrior spears from all sides, unable to stanch the gush of blood.

People love to play Lee Harvey Oswald and figuratively assassinate a beloved politician or a desired movie actor or sports star.

Adding “hero” to your resume can be relatively easy, but staying one is damned near impossible.

In the heat of the moment, when crisis strikes, most of us can summon the courage and energy to lift 2-tonne cars off people, or run into voraciously-burning houses to rescue fluffy kittens.

But the real measure of a true hero is someone who can be courageous day-in and day-out when the rush of super-hormones has passed. The strength to do valorous things without a massive wallop of adrenaline coursing through our system is an epic measure of hero-aciousness.

9:11 Firefighters

Heroes are everywhere you look, not just in battle zones, or in ripped and torn 9-11 skyscrapers.

When I was a kid of maybe 9 or 10 years old, I had a classmate John who had hydrocephalus, or an enlarged head from excessive buildup of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid).

Most of us dumb kids, in our ignorance, made fun of John because of the differences in appearance and also his slower mental functioning.

Some days you could see the pain in John’s eyes. He knew he was different, and there was nothing he could do to change his circumstance. I felt badly for his situation but wasn’t “man” enough to stand up for him.

But another one of my little buddies, Billy, befriended and defended John. Billy didn’t care if it made him look like an outsider or feel rejected. Billy was valiant and heroic enough to risk his own reputation to make another less fortunate outcast feel a part of something outside himself.

I admired Billy’s strength then as I do even today. Billy was a pint-sized hero.

But back to Lance.

I spent a number of hours each July in years gone by, watching TV images of the long Tour de France waves of cyclists race day-in and day-out across the flat stretches of French countryside; postcard-scenic riverbanks of gently shifting grain and alfalfa stretched out alongside.

Pedaling in a crowded pelaton for endless hours each day. Hard work, yes.

Then they hit the mountain passes and it was nothing short of miraculous to see the strength and mental toughness summoned to climb the steep Alp and Pyrenees slopes, the Plateau de Beille or Alpe D’Huez.

I was mesmerized. I was gobsmacked and most of the worship was doled out to one athlete, Lance Armstrong.

Lance Climbing

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, he would monster-pedal his way up the hellishly-steep switchback slopes.

And then just when the other riders thought he was broken, he could find another gear in his physical bag of tricks, and destroy the competition. Spinning his muscled legs even faster, he’d leave the other boys in the dust.

It was beautiful to watch.

It was poetry on wheels … no… it was more than that, it was an operatic aria sung at ear-splitting volume… Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo! Fortunatissimo per verità!

But even then, I knew in my heart of hearts that he was performing his feats with the help of the wonders of medical intervention.

Sure, it disturbed me, but I also thought then and still believe that every other rider that was anywhere close to him on the road was using similar little helpers. It was an even-steven kind of thing and Lance was the very best of the best either way.

Drugs or no drugs, he was superlative. I loved him, faults and all.

He was/is an arrogant son of a bitch like so many top notch achievers and I reluctantly accepted this too. The price of great ability can sometimes be an irritating attitude, thank you Muhammed Ali, John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Kevin Spacey, Pierre Trudeau.

However, bit-by-bit I’ve fallen out of love with Lance. I’m removing my worshipping lips from his ass. His arrogance and deceit has hurt too many people along the way.

Heroes are meant to inspire, not hurt.

There have been many heroes in my life – friends, relatives, strangers – and there will be many more to follow.

I stand at the top of Giant’s Head Mountain here in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley gazing out over the fruit orchards and lake below, seeking sources of inspiration.

I wanna be a hero. But where will I find my own hero-sity?

All I have to do is look and listen and ACT.

I have no concerns over shamelessly borrowing the bright starlight of others who shine my way.

  • I can emulate Dave from the gym who voluntarily serves healthy meals at the soup kitchen every week to the less fortunate.
  • I can borrow the initiative of cousin John who writes country music songs while bravely battling his own cancer.
  • I can draw on the energy of the many who travel to 3rd world countries, giving their time, on their own dime, to deliver supplies and education to intelligent people who need a helping hand up.

Yup, heroes come in all shapes, colours, and sizes.

It’s good to know that the champion’s letter on our chest can be an “S” … or an “s”.

 

Superman Butt

Of course, the S doesn’t HAVE to be on our chest…