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Worthington Aberdeen’s Blog » 2008 » March

Archive for March, 2008

THE BALL CAP

I was in a diner having an open-faced hot turkey sandwich with tons of gravy. I do this from time to time when I feel the need to eat something hot that brings me back to the aura of family. The world is a big place. A hot turkey sandwich somehow makes me feel less alone within it. There is a certain peace and calm in warm food with gravy.As I savored my last bit of mashed potatoes, I looked around the diner at America in distress. These very tough times were apparent on the tired face of our waitress. You could hear the squeeze of a bad economy and a nearing recession in the silence of the couple at the next table and the man playing scratchers at the counter. Across the room and seated by a window was an older gentleman. He, too, looked worn. He was eating the meat loaf special. Perhaps meatloaf did for him, what hot turkey does for me. There was nothing particularly outstanding about this old man other than his hat. It was a bright, blue ball cap that said World War II Veteran in shiny, gold letters.

I watched him carefully as he doted on his meatloaf. What had this guy seen? How had it changed his life? I thought about the beaches of Normandy and the Pacific Theatre. Did he survive the infamous rush to shore? Was he a paratrooper that dropped into a small town in Italy or France? Was he there at Buchenwald, Dachau, or Mauthausan?

I wanted to talk to him, but there was a sense of dignity in merely watching him. In those decades long before I was born, this once young man had liberated Europe from the dark horrors of Nazism. What does he still remember? What can he never forget? Does anyone ever recover from war?

No sooner had I concluded that our collective memories are short and that we walk each day in the freedom and unacknowledged sacrifice of others … than a young man got up from his table and crossed the diner. He held out this hand to the older man and said, “I want to thank you for all you have done for our country.” The old man reached up and shook the younger man’s hand. He smiled briefly and said, “Oh it’s my hat.” The young man said, “No … it’s you.” The old man looked down at his meatloaf and very quietly responded, “You’re welcome.”

It was a quiet and brief exchange but one of the more powerful moments I had seen in quite some time. Life is certainly strange, but sometimes it’s also extraordinary.

The Bum

I was having a terrible day. I drove all the way to Century City from the Valley for two back-to-back appointments …  the 101 and the 405 were twin nightmares. I made the first appointment on time, somehow. I valet parked for about $20 and dashed toward the elevator from the parking garage. What I didn’t know was that my first meeting was a “no show.” I would sit in a waiting room for the better part of an hour. I left and phoned my appointment to follow which was over in Hollywood. He was not answering the phone, however. Annoyed and flustered, I stopped at a Starbuck’s in West Hollywood. Ahhh. It loomed like an urban oasis, a hot and steaming escapist heaven where would-be screenwriters and could-be actors were tapping and texting on their laptops and cell phones.

There I could sit, collect my thoughts, eat a scone, sip a latte, and clear my tangled mind. What is wrong with people in business? Do they think my time doesn’t matter? How much gas have I wasted? How much did this lost day cost me? I called my second appointment again and attempted to leave a message. His voicemail was full. Not only do I not get to see the guy, there is actually no evidence of my attempt. When the barista called my name, I rushed to collect my latte. It was as if I had won BINGO.  I grabbed my scone in a bag and quickly spotted a table outside, facing Santa Monica Boulevard. I kicked out the metal chair, pushed away some trash with my elbow, and sat down.

Finally, I could figure out what to do next. As I was about to take my first sip … a bum walked up to me and asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee. It wasn’t that he asked … it was how he asked. Hey, buy me a cup of coffee! I said, sorry, no. To which he promptly replied, “Another asshole!” I jumped up out of my metal chair and said “What did you call me?” He looked at the ground and was silent. I would not let it go, “Did you call me an asshole? Because if you did you picked the wrong moment in time and the wrong person. You have no idea what kind of day I have had and how very thin the thread is that I am now hanging by! Now think real hard and see if you can remember what you called me!” The bum looked up at me with utter astonishment and fear and slowly mumbled, “I was talking to someone else” as he backed away from the table and escaped down a side street. I felt a strange vindication and empowerment as I slowly slid back down into my chair.

FOR THE LAST VICTIM OF HATE

Your hands are footprints on my face
Press me into fossils
Fix me wires for my jaw
Find me mammoth bones for my legs
Re-assemble me
And put me on display.

Make me someone’s science
A scaled giant on a page
A long, hulking silence
With a Latin name.
Shelter me from obscurity
Unearth me when they bury me
Scream for me from the stout volumes
Of everything
Where they will attempt to condense me.
Look, upon occasion, on my prehistoric face
Housed in the obscurity of photographs
Trapped in the finality of glass and frames.

Oh, walk with me now
Melt with me here
Upon these clear glaciers
That will become the sea
Where I will sail from you
Where I will turn like ice
Into the silence of a white night.

CHANGES

When I was a child
Not everyone wanted to be free
A greenhouse had no “effect
Abstinence was voluntary
Recession was a gum disease
There was no “all” in natural
A drive-by was not a shooting
Religion was not a state of mind
Nothing was “untreatable”
Time was personal
Everybody ate meat
Volcanoes were always dormant
Only dinosaurs were extinct
Teasing was not sexual
Slang wasn’t in the dictionary
Music was not seen
Patriotism was chic
Winters were never warm
Children were never missing
Hostages were never taken
It rained constantly
The Middle East was a mystery
The Russians were our enemy
Your mother didn’t have to be thin
There was no “X” in Christmas
Air travel was easy
The imagination had no limits
There were no remedies for growing older
There were no movies we had not seen
Love had no penalty
And, the only war we knew of was over.

A DARK, IRISH SILENCE

(Presented at the WB Yeats International Summer School, Sligo, Ireland)

The fiery eye of God descended
Upon the backs of the herds
The moon’s face was half-turned
As the rich crochet of Irish tapestry
Ebbed a way.

Black birds at nightfall
Beaded the telephone line
Like a dark rosary
Strewn between the green hands
Of trees.
Field flies made their last dance
In a luminous bath of light.
A black, horned slug crawled
Down a wet wall
To the cover of grass
Four, plump nuns passed.
A man in high boots left his garden.
The rains came in confessions
In velvet curtains
Whispering with prayers
Rising and kneeling at the altar
Of that flat-topped mountain
Where chimneys smolder like candles
And houses glow like vestments
Of the valley.

Silence…
Stillness…
All lost in mist
All lost in nothingness
I make my petition.
And the druid hills lean in
Like lumbering giants
With their ears to the earth
To listen.

WORTHINGTON
West Hills, CA