Inside Our House

(I’ve developed a sneaking envy for photo bloggers this last month, so, as a bonus, I thought I’d take a run at it. – S.B.)

My proctologist / spiritual advisor told my wife and me that our feng was nowhere near shui enough, so we’ve redecorated. I thought I’d share some of the results with you.

Here is the master bedroom:

1st Master Bedroom

It is amazing how much more energy we each have with this setup. However, the TV now only gets “The Brooklyn Bridge Channel”, which is kind of monotonous. In addition, finding a large enough dish towel to use as a carpet turned out to be a job only CraigsList could handle.

After that, we turned to remodeling the living room:

Living Room

For those of you who don’t recognize it, that is indeed the famous “Torn Band-Aid” painting of Picasso’s lesser known “Johnson & Johnson” period. Seeing as how we have our one and three year-old grandsons over daily, glass furniture built on frail bases seemed wise.

Next, we turned to remodeling one of the smaller of the guest cottages:

Guest Cottage

Just for fun, we went with a Castle Červená Lhota theme. “Czech yourself before you wreck yourself,” we always say. Since this turned out so well, we remodeled the larger guest cottage not long after:

Larger Cottage

Here, we made a more daring decorating choice, feeling Ulaanbaatar says “welcome” like nothing else could. If you look off to the left you can see parts of the lifelike city replica in the background. Next, it was back to the house, proper, for a remodeled exercise room:

Exercise Room

I’ve had a few people tell me this is not very practical, as you have to walk all the way around both pools to get to the weight room; we put in the chairs so people can rest along the way. “Exercise should be about so much more than strength and movement,” I always say. In fact, I say stuff much more often than I exercise.

We couldn’t forget to liven up the kitchen:

Kitchen

To tell the truth, my wife is not entirely happy with how this room turned out. She wanted help on the design from some guy named “Art Decko” (sp?) — whoever he is. I like the fact the room can double as a skating rink, though. Too few kitchens can do that.

She also wasn’t crazy about the privacy with our newly redone bathroom:

Bathroom

You can see we’re continuing the beige floor motif. As to privacy: there’s no reason why relieving yourself should involve claustrophobia, is how I see it. I told my wife, if she was uncomfortable here, it was only 7,860 steps to the bathroom off of the exercise room – I counted. Well, actually, I had the butler count.

Finally, we added on a small room just for the grandkids to play in:

Play Room

Some people think all of this is a bit much. “Balderdash,” I say. Children should have whatever it takes to help them grow and lead a healthy life, as long as I don’t have to miss watching ball games or anything to help them do it.

Well, there they are, our meager remodeling efforts. We hope you liked seeing them as much as we enjoyed doing them.

And remember, if you see and read it on the Internet, it has to be true.

 


 

And thank all that is holy, that ends Nano Poblano for this year! Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Ghost Out On The Railroad Tracks

Six more hours to go, just to get in state; six more after that, to make it home. I pulled over because my eyes were tired from driving.

I took a sip from my water bottle and looked around. Trains still ran on these tracks, I could tell. There was no one else in sight in the parking lot of the old train depot; no one on duty, no one on the street. The tracks were four deep in two directions.

No one on the street. Not that strange, I thought. College Football season.

I got out of the car to stretch my legs, and passed through a covered area that lead to a locked ticket office. There were several safety posters and two portraits; one of a a very old man who looked like a politician, and another of a standing middle-aged man with his standing wife and seated son and daughter. The kids both appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. I thought the man might have been the same man as the other portrait, just younger. There were no signs or placards to indicate who they were, however. Apparently, around here, everybody knew.

I walked over to the railing beside the tracks. I could hear a faint sound, like an old radio. Straining to hear it better, I realized it was what sounded like a radio program from the mid 1940’s. Big band music live from somewhere, in horrible fidelity. Muffled applause and a scratchy live announcer with an old-time radio voice between songs.

I looked around for the source. There were no houses or other buildings open to the railway tracks. I looked down the tracks instead and saw a girl.

She was walking away from me, down one of the tracks, wearing an oddly old-fashioned dress, and shoes, and hairstyle. She was walking in between the tracks, and music seemed to be coming from her as well, although it was entirely different music than the radio.

Instinctively, I started walking after her, wanting to gain a little ground before speaking so as not to yell. She was singing as she walked, in a sort of plaintiff, Celtic voice:

My love, I’ve waited for him long,
Along this stretch of track —
But it’s been many, many years;
I fear he won’t be back.

My golden youth has turned to age,
The friends I had are gone;
My love, I wish he’d come back soon;
I’ve waited for so long –

I had pulled up close enough to see her face. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen her. On a whim, I called out to her, “Miss –”

She was gone. Vanished.

I blinked my eyes and shook my head to clear it. I looked up and down the track: no girl, although the old time distant radio was still playing, somewhere. I walked over to where I thought she last had been. There was a piece of gingham caught up on the track; I grabbed it right before the wind would have blown it away.

As I walked back to the car, I passed through the covered area. Glancing at the larger of the two pictures, I realized that the girl I had just seen – or thought I’d seen – was the daughter in the portrait. I looked up at the picture and studied it. The others were smiling, but she looked sort of distant and sad, wearing a gingham dress. Her smiling father’s hand was on her shoulder, right beneath where the his hand lay, I could tell the sleeve of her dress was torn.

I looked at the piece of gingham in my hand. It would have fit perfectly.

“That’s my family,” a faintly Irish girl’s voice said.

I jumped. She was standing ten feet away from me. I gathered myself, and said, “Why aren’t you with them?”

“They died. Years ago.”

“Did you?” I heard myself ask.

“Yes, but I’m not leaving. He told me he’d be back, you see. I thought maybe you were him, but, I can see up close that you’re not.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where did he go?”

“Ha,” she said, with a laugh. “To war.”

“To war? Then he – he was soldier?”

“A pilot,” she said proudly. “2nd Air Division.”

“So you’re waiting for him to come back from the war?”

“He hasn’t died. I would know if he had. I am waiting for him to come back here. He said he would.”

She turned and jumped back down to the tracks. In spite of myself, I walked after her.

“Miss –” I said, “What did you die from? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Polio,” she said. “Toward the end I was in a wheelchair. I was in one in the portrait. I sent him one picture of me in my wheelchair, but he didn’t write back for a long time after that. In fact, I died, and he still hadn’t written back. Well — goodbye,” she said, and she was gone.

I stood there, the wind blowing softly through the train station, and the old-time radio music still somewhere in the distance, and I thought

“That bastard…”

 


 

Don’t ask me why I would try to write a ghost story: I hate ghost stories, for one thing, and I’m not sure I actually know what they are supposed to be, as evidenced by the above. Oh, sorry, ahem… “For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.”, etc., etc.

Lonelier

When I met the woman who was to become the great love of my life, she was lonelier than I had ever been, even in my worst days.

Even with three daughters she adored.

She is (and was) an exceptionally beautiful woman by any objective standard. But beauty is no guarantee of happiness. In can, rather, be a guarantee of unwanted attention.

When I first saw her, my honest thoughts were, “Wow. She’s beautiful. Way out of my league.” And that would have been that, except…

… She was attracted to me.

Even now, I have to pause to let that sink in. She was attracted to me.

I was a single father raising a son (and, during the summers, my stepson). I had dated three women since my divorce; a woman who was way too young, a woman from work who just couldn’t relate to someone who had a child, and a third whose only interest in me was money related. Dating her (my future wife) seemed an extreme improbability.

What did I have going for me? I’m not exactly handsome; I certainly wasn’t her male equivalent in looks. She had frequently dated, and had even been married once, to that type of person.

I had a job, so check there… I was raising a child, so, whatever type of check that merits, I guess I had that…

[digression]

I had emerged from my first marriage and my dating years with a series of weird ideas about women, one of which was: women are every bit (if not more) appearance-conscious than men are reputed to be. They act like men are these shallow, appearance-driven creatures, and they’re half right.

We are shallow.

There was a post earlier this month among my fellow peppers where a woman was recommending a single guy she knew to any girls out there who were single.

Let’s just say I don’t (and never did) look anything like this guy. I know (or thought I knew) that this is what women want.

Some of this attitude goes back to my early teens, and my observation of what might be called mass, groupie-like behavior on the part of my female classmates.

They all wanted the same guys: the hot guys, the cool guys (which oddly enough, in English, are not opposites).

In other words, the not-me guys.

At one point in my life, I reasoned that humans had evolved in such a way that men were supposed to die off in war and the few survivors have multiple wives; this explained things like the fact that a higher percent of women have ever been married than men, meaning, all the women marry the same few guys.

Who, once again, were not me.

[/digression]

So I found this beautiful woman, who I was attracted to, attracted to me.

What’s more, it wasn’t the way she looked that got me. I actually fell in love with her when we started talking on the phone every night.

Remember: we each had kids to get to bed. My son was only four years old at the time; his half-brother was thirteen. Her girls were nine, twelve, and fifteen. We worked our jobs, got our kids to bed, then we would talk on the phone.

For hours.

She was smart. She was creative. She was strong. She had lived a fascinating life.

She had actually been a professional model in her younger days, but she had a degree in sociology, and had worked at least fifty different jobs, by my count, including having taught a variety of subjects at college.

She had dark things in her past, though.

An alcoholic father.

Date rape.

An alcoholic husband.

She was lonelier, I came to realize, than I had ever been; mostly because, to the world, she was a beautiful person, and beautiful people (as we all know) don’t have problems.

The high school pageant winner doesn’t have father who steals money to buy alcohol. If she doesn’t socialize, it’s because she’s stuck-up, not because she’s virtually a prisoner in her own home.

The professional model has her pick of all the best guys. If she got raped, it’s probably her fault. Besides, I doubt she can keep track of how many guys she’s been with.

Look at her, with her good looks and her handsome husband, and now, three beautiful daughters. Certainly, neither she nor her girls could be afraid at night when he comes home drunk.

I came to see something I’ve seen repeatedly since: when you think someone else’s life is easy, it’s because you don’t know that person well enough.

Still, she had overcome these things, and I had fallen in love like I’d never thought possible. She encouraged me. She looked out for me.

She loved me.

She didn’t just say it, she actually did it.


When we decided to get married, our kids seemed excited about the idea. Mixed step-families do have problems they don’t tell you about in books, though, like her twelve year old daughter having a crush on my thirteen year old stepson.

And him breaking her heart.

Our first year of marriage was tough, as we struggled to integrate ourselves into each other’s lives.  She had learned to be conflict-avoidant. I had learned the opposite.

But we worked through it.

To me, in a relationship, respect is more fundamental than attraction, or even affection. I was attracted to her, and I loved her, but I respected her, and that meant more when times got tough than anything else, largely because respect prevents you from, ultimately, indulging in the type of corrosive criticism that destroys relationships from within.

When you are attracted to her, you want to sleep with her;
When you love her, you want her to be happy;
But when you respect her, you want to listen to and learn from her.

When you have nothing left to learn from the person you love, your relationship is probably in trouble.


So here we are.

We’ve been married now quite a while; we’ve seen all three of our daughters get married, and one of those get divorced.

I’m upwards of fifty years old; she’s a few months older than I am. We have grandchildren.

She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. “Beautiful” and “young” are different words for a reason.

We have challenges ahead, I’m sure. I’m also sure I have no idea what they will be. But we’ve both been through the valley.

We also know what is to lie out on the grass, and bathe in the sunlight, and know we are loved.

For love is not just the best thing, it’s the only thing.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Admissions

Like many of you, I struggle at times with how much of myself I should reveal here.

Should I tell people that every time I read the words “Nano Poblano” I think of them sung to the chorus of “Viva Las Vegas”?

Probably not.

Should I talk about how much I still love my wife after all these years, or how grateful I am for all the little things she does for me? No, because, number 1, it would seem uxorious, and number 2, nobody wants to hear about good things.

In fact, people seem to positively resent other people’s good things. How dare I, or anyone else, have good things to say about anything?

So that’s out.

Should I talk about how unpopular I was as a child? That, in elementary school, I once had a valentine returned to me, unopened?

That might be okay. People can relate to being unpopular. Oddly enough, even very popular people can relate to it.

You popular people know who you are. Popularity is a thing you would never admit to, of course.

Those type of admissions are very unseemly.

Given that much of my writing this month has been about dating and many of the relationships I’ve had along the way, I might want to write about why it took me so long to find that type of love, and about all the things I did to sabotage my own relationships. I could dress it up like it was some sort of sociological study…

… How about “no”. That style of writing is irritating: “Thirteen Things Men Do Because They’re Afraid of Love,” written by A. Nonymous:

“… I realized, for all my talk of equality, that I wanted to be in control in my relationships. So, I let one after another slip away, to feed my ego… People want more freedom in their lives, not less: love should promote that; but, for years, I couldn’t see it.”

Well. That has the merit of being true, I suppose. Judging from readership on the Internet, people hate truth: they prefer politics, just to mention one of the many more popular choices. Erotica would be another.

I have told a couple of stories here that involve sex, although the predominant theme in each was my general cluelessness. General cluelessness, and my knack for finding women who had a point to prove to their ex.

Speaking of being clueless, my wife is out of town for a few days, so I’m having hot dogs for breakfast. Should I admit to that?

I’m pretty sure I just did.

I also started working on a song. I stopped writing songs because inspiration only ever seem to hit while she was sleeping. I wasn’t going to wake her up trying to work out a song at the piano.

I write poetry instead, typing is less noisy. And less grating than my voice.

I hate my voice. I could write about that. People can certainly relate to that – you most likely hate yours too.

Even though they’re the only voices we have.

And we’d have a hard time admitting to anything without them.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Essays

Essays. I have to remember I’m writing essays now.

But I prefer poetry.

Poetry allows me to express feelings without being worried about getting facts right. Or grammar. Or where the hell to start and end paragraphs.

I have no idea where paragraphs should start or end.

Like the idiot I am, I agreed to write essays for National Blog Posting Month, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Fortunately for me, sweet and supportive people (i.e., other CheerPeppers) subtly help me out. They reprint a bit of an essay I wrote, changing the paragraph structure of what I wrote into what it should have been. When I do a Facebook post, I neglect to tag the people it is about; one of the moderators gently comes in and does it for me.

Essentially, I was raised by wolves and I am now attending tea, but the people here are really nice and don’t comment on my manners.


All through public school, whenever we were asked to do creative writing assignments, I was told, upon completion, that I just was not a writer. This was true in college as well, except for one professor, my Creative Writing teacher, who saw something in my writing no one else saw. Everyone else saw an inchoate mass of undeveloped ideas, poor sentence structure, and dizzying leaps from subject to subject.

They weren’t wrong, it’s just, with poetry, that can work in my favor. With essays, those things detract.

As I’ve mentioned to some people in comments here, I got my love of poetry from my mother. She, however, did not think much of my own efforts in the genre. My mother is not a critical or judgmental person – not at all – but she also was and is not prone to the common maternal habit of feigning enthusiasm, either.

Asking for an honest evaluation about something you’ve created from a loved one can create a significant tension in them between love and truth. They love us, so they want to say things that will make us feel good; however, honesty may impel them to say things that have the opposite effect.

I’ve solved that problem in my own life my never showing anyone who actually knows me in daily life any of my creative efforts*. They don’t need to lie; I don’t need to get my feelings hurt or wonder at their sincerity if they are positive.

It’s not exactly a “win-win”; it’s more like a “what the hell kind of choice is that” thing.

* Other than music.


Some people are analyzers; they take things apart to see if they make sense, examining them from as many angles as they can. I am a synthesizer: everything, to me, is related to everything else, and my mind is constantly trying to unify things into a coherent whole.

Which is crazy, of course. There is a “whole”, but any unity we find is liable to be one we put there.

I tell stories about my life, or the lives of those around me, trying to make sense out of it all. I feel like the story I’m meant to tell is in some way unified. My writing, however, is more like a mosaic than a single thing, with bits of this and that, discrete in themselves, that maybe, when examined from a distance, might form a single picture.

Love is what it is all about, of course. I was a young person in search of love, who wandered in and out of relationships, eventually becoming very ill, depressed, and broken; but, through a series of events having little to do with my own merit, gradually found a better life.

Even though I’m still ill, and most likely, broken.

So. I will continue to write more broken, love-seeking essays that border on poetry in my complete disregard for the rules of structure and paragraphing.

Then go back to live with the wolves.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Choice to Be

Photo credit : © Borjairas | Dreamstime.com – Coca Cola Cans, Coke Photo


She knew I was broken when she met me. Broken, but functioning.

The simplest choices had become agonizing. What to wear in the morning. What to say to someone. What to buy from a vending machine.

She knew all of this about me, but she liked me anyway. In fact, she said she loved me.

I hadn’t heard those words in a long time.

It was like a song you might have heard long ago; the tune seems familiar, now, but you just can’t remember where you heard it, or even, if you liked it. You think maybe you did. I thought maybe I did. Like being loved.

She became my first wife, and part of the choice I made to be with her involved, first, choosing to be, period.

The choice to be. We make it every day.

She, too was broken, by the way: broken into pieces so expertly put back together that only close inspection would show how thorough the shattering had been. But her breaking was, in many ways, more thorough than mine. She thought she was rescuing me by loving me, but she was only building up pressure within herself that eventually gave way, and we gave way with it.

She loved me, she told me at the end, so she thought she could live a straight life. But she was gay, and she was in love with someone else.

So, six years after we each said “I do”, we didn’t.

You won’t read a stream of negative words from me about my ex. She tried her hardest when we were together, and she’s tried hard since then. She already had a son when we met, and we had one together. Both of them are broken, too, in their different ways — particularly the one we had together. Broken but functioning. Moving forward. Choosing to be.

Ours was a tempestuous marriage; our personality types were very similar, both being what might charitably be described as “prone to wide mood swings”. Temperamental. Feisty. Confrontational.

Broken.

You stand in front of life’s vending machine, and you see all the pretty colors and flavors, and your money goes in, and you push a button.

You make a choice. I made a choice – we made a choice.

We chose to be together. We chose to have a child. We chose to be apart.

We chose to be.

Apart.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Among My Many Poor Decisions…

[Warning: adult(ish) content.]

I was twenty-eight years old, and one of six guys in the groom’s party at a friend’s wedding: we were to wear black tuxedos with pink cummerbunds. I was paired off with a bridesmaid who had long wavy brown hair, deep red lipstick, and who would be wearing the obligatory pink bridesmaid dress.

I had met her the night before at the rehearsal, and sat next to her at the rehearsal dinner, where we spent some time chatting, mostly about the bride and groom. Late in the dinner, she casually asked me if I was single… I said yes… I asked her the same question… she said she would be as of tomorrow, the wedding day, as her divorce was final then. Without really thinking about it, I asked her for the first open dance the next night. She said sure.

The church where the wedding was to be held was way out in the country, more or less in the middle of a wheat field. We had to stand outside for pictures, which were taken prior to the ceremony. I honestly felt like a scarecrow standing in a field like that.

I noticed, though, that she (my assigned bridesmaid) really took to getting her picture taken — and she looked good doing it.

I also had the impression the bridal party might have gotten an early start on the champagne.

I typically love weddings where I don’t have to be the one providing music: I actually get to watch. When the bride came in, she looked radiant, and the groom looked completely love struck. I remember glancing across the way at the bridesmaids; all of them were looking back and forth from the bride to the groom, some with tears in their eyes — except for my bridesmaid, who was looking squarely at me. She smiled when she saw me looking back, then turned to watch the bride, her eyes shining.

The reception was about ten miles away. When the bride and groom arrived, we began the usual festivities. First open dance, my bridesmaid and I danced, and the next dance, and the next two. We went back to the table holding hands. Several other of the bridal party were watching with interest. The rest of the groom’s party was at the bar, as I recall. There was food; there were toasts and speeches; and champagne was flowing freely. The bridesmaid and I danced again and drank again, back and forth, for several hours, and, well into the reception, when some slower dances came on, there wasn’t any doubt any more that she and I were ‘together’.

When we got back to the table, she told me she wanted to talk to me outside “for a minute”. I was fine with that. We took our champagne with us, and two glasses.

And went to my car.

And, umm… experienced each other’s bodies fully.

And were noticed.

And then went back in and tried to play it off.

I don’t exactly know who it was that saw us – given the way that car was made, it would have been virtually impossible, to really see us – but everyone there seemed to know what had happened. Particularly the bride, who was looking daggers at her rather unconcerned friend, the one with the long messed-up brown hair.

The groom caught up to me a few minutes later in the bathroom.

“Man — Elise is PISSED.”

“About what?”

“You and Redacted. Everyone knows what you two were doing out there.”

I looked at my watch. “Yeah, what you and Elise should be doing, by now. Do you know how long it has been for me? It’s been, like, years.”

“Dude, I don’t care what you were doing. I know Redacted’s ex, and he’s the world’s biggest prick. It’s nice to see you two having fun.”

“Then what’s Elise’s problem?”

“This is her night, nothing is supposed to detract from her.”

“Should I apologize?”

“Nah, just take Redacted and go. It would have been better if you two hadn’t come back in.”

I went back in and quietly suggested to my bridesmaid that we should go. “I’m not ready to go yet.”

“I think we’ve caused quite a commotion.”

“Good. I have to be sure enough people know that they tell my ex.”

“I am pretty sure everyone here knows, and the news is way the hell across town.”

“Alright, we can go, then, ” she said breezily, if unsteadily.

 


 

We were going to go back to my place, but I ended up taking her directly to her house because the champagne caught up to her in the car and she started to feel sick. She asked if I wanted to come in, but I honestly didn’t. I told her I’d call the next day to see how she was doing.

When I called her late the next afternoon, she sounded like she’d swallowed an entire bottle of remorse.

“Ugh. I’m so embarrassed about last night. Aren’t you?” she asked.

I wasn’t, but I thought it only polite to say, “We’d both had a lot to drink.”

“Too much,” she said, wearily. “Well, sorry about that. I appreciate you calling to check on me. I’ll be fine.”

And that was that.

 


 

Unbeknownst to me, my eventual first wife was at that wedding, and that wedding reception. We did not know each other at the time.

Three years later, we were planning our own wedding and realized that both she and I had been there.

“Oh, I remember that wedding!” she said, “One of the wedding party couples were, like, gettin’ busy in one of the limos during the reception. Do you remember that?”

“It wasn’t a limo, it was my car.”

“You let them use your car?”

Silence.

“Well, I didn’t want them using the bathroom,” I said.

“I guess that’s right,” she said, turning back to the invitation list.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.