Send Me No Power

I am powerless—in more ways than one. I drove to my house to soothe the cat. The electric lines were still down, the house was an oven.

I stopped for coffee at the convenience store. The parking lot was full of contract electricians, some all the way from Oklahoma. I walked to a young guy’s truck and tried to make small talk, but he wasn’t having it.

“You don’t deserve air conditioning and power,” the guy said. “I’m working around the clock, and yesterday I took a break and worked my soybeans. And I didn’t have no air conditioning. You people (I thought he meant seniors) think you should get everything. Well, listen up, guy. All the electric grids in the world are going down—only the fittest will survive. I am ready.”

I believed him. He may or may not represent a class of people who call themselves survivalists (white people, dare I say it), but I wasn’t going to probe.

I spent an hour with the cat. She was obviously stressed. A car pulled up, and an electrician, a black man, got out and introduced himself. He was the point man on getting the power restored. I mentioned that a lot of people were stressed out. He had heard an earful already, as had his colleagues. Unfortunately, he also had a few customers who didn’t want to let him in their houses.

“I love my job,” the man said. “I will keep any further opinions to myself. You look familiar. How do I know you?”

I told him I was a writer, most recently about the Tuskegee Airmen. He had been at the ceremony to unveil the memorial to George and Arnold Cisco. He said I was blessed.

And then I drove to Farmer Orville’s house. We sat on the porch, and his wife Quilt Queen offered me more coffee and some Pepperidge Farm cookies. I told them about the two electricians. “What a shame,” Quilt Queen said. “That in 2017 people still hold racist feelings.” She was utterly sincere.

Their neighbor Walt’s giant maple tree had shattered in the Saturday night storm, one long piece of it snapping off and flying like a spear, downing itself just feet from my friends’ kitchen. This turned into a theological discussion. Sure, God tried to kill me; I’m a heathen after all. But He also threw a maple spear at the sacred Missouri Synod Lutheran kitchen, from whence pies and cookies and cobblers emerge.

“Read your Martin Luther,” Orville said. “God don’t choose sides. You are a spectacular sinner, but I am a sinner too.”

True dat.

And since God or god or Universe or universe don’t take sides, we all are being called—to speak against hatred and injustice. To act: not a comforting notion to most people my age, who “don’t worry, be happy,” and want to eat and be merry and dote on their grandchildren, never mind the grandchildren are facing global catastrophe and may have to fight for water.

And if we don’t speak and act, we deserve the survivalists, who—in case you haven’t heard— managed to elect a President of Hate of the United States of America, even if that president is cheerfully throwing them off the bus.

In chaos is joy—if you have a gun.

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We Interrupt This Program

The tanks rolled up to the balcony where I was standing and holding a little girl in my arms. The turrets made an awful racket as they pivoted their guns up and toward the balcony. The girl screamed and clawed at my arm. And then the tanks fired: This was my dream.

I awoke with the cat in the crook of my arm. She was yowling and trying to get away from me. There was a freight train coming at the house, and an explosion, from outside. The cat vanished, and I jumped out of bed and stood under an archway.

I opened the front door and saw wires and cables strewn all over the front yard, the power still on. Rain slashed northeast, and lighting repeatedly flashed to the north, like a lamp light turning on and off. A 20-foot tree limb lay across the wires, at the corner of my study. The car, I thought, the car.

I called 911, and within minutes two firemen pulled up in a pickup truck. They shouted at me to stay inside. They had been making rounds in the storm’s path, Stanka Lane to Stroke Hill and up to the highway. The storm, it seems, took the Genehouse path.

The firemen told me that several house fires were being fought, power lines were down, and thousands of people and homes were without power. They checked my yard by flashlight. My shed roof was punched in. The street light pole next to the shed had snapped, and the wires all fell. My carport was listing toward the house but the car was fine. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE, STAY INSIDE.

So, I had a beer and typed a message on Facebook, and I discovered that friends all over the area were awake, many without power. We had been scorched by 108-degree heat the day before, and we all had looked forward to sleep.

I was dead tired. I lay down, intending to check back in with friends, but I drifted in and out of dream states. At least I was cool. And Scout the cat rejoined me in bed.

And then the power went out. My box fan stopped singing white noise. The storm had passed; there was deadly quiet. I meditated until dawn.

And walked outside, and saw the damage that the tank in my dream had caused. I went back in the house and read the Sunday paper. By 10 a.m. the heat started rolling back in, and steam rose off the tall corn across the highway. The humming birds fed in a frenzy. But there were no insects, squirrels, birds.

The tree that crashed my carport bounced and rolled off to the right onto my shed. Had the carport not been there, in front of my bedroom window, Scout and I might have. . .

I’m fine, staying with a friend down the road, cool. I imagine that a lot of people who live alone are bearing the heat, as they bear life itself and wait.

And wait.

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Cracked Like Me

“What the hell did you think I’d be doin’?” Farmer Orville said, in response to my questioning his sanity because he was weeding blackberry bushes, and the temperature was 102.

My hummingbirds drank two containers of sugar water today. The squirrels lay flat out on the ground, their limbs extended. There were no insects to be seen. The ground was hard and cracked and burnt. The sky was spit-colored, and a metallic perfume of pollution filled the air.

Quilt Queen sat indoors and watched “Ellen.” I handed her my fingernail clippers and she relieved me of cracked and broken nails that I couldn’t handle. She and Orville keep the thermostat over 80. I had showered for the first time in five weeks, and now I was soaked through again.

“There you go, Robert,” the GOP congressman said on NPR. “You said you would interview me about Made in America Week, and now you’re throwing in cracks about Trump and Ivanka—like I know anything about Trump and Ivanka and the stuff they sell.”

“I am done with that Republican Party,” Orville said. “We elected an idiot.

“When I was a kid and it was hot like this on our farm, I would shimmy up to the top of the tallest maple tree, the branches hangin’ over the road. And I had me this really cheap wallet, and I would stuff it with green, edged paper that I had cut to look like money.

“And I would tie that wallet to a long length of fishin’ line, and then I waited for cars to come along. I would dangle that wallet at windshield height, you know, lure in somebody with ‘free’ money. Ever’ once in a while, a car would brake and a driver climb out to grab that wallet, and I would haul it up and make it dance. And people would shake their heads and curse and drive off. And I’d be up in that tree, invisible, and crackin’ up.”

Orville is like an implied character out of a Chekov play: the corrupt gentry holed up in the big house set and existentially suffering, and the unnamed farmer out in yonder cherry orchard, doing the work.

Madame Ranevsky: Without the cherry orchard, my life has no meaning for me, and if it must be sold, then for heaven’s sake sell me too.

Orville: Well, I’ll be weedin’, if you need me.

Madame Ravenesky (to Orville): You want to eat me, don’t you, you want to devour us all.

Orville (cracking up): I prefer a DQ cheeseburger.

Madame Revenesky (watching Orville exit): I knew it.

Orville’s grandson Justin drove up the drive in his pickup. Quilt Queen ran outside to hug and squeeze her two great-grandbabies. She babbled like a brook, and it was Tower of Babel gibberish, like I do with Scout the Cat: you know, ‘widdo wookums’ stuff.

Orville shook his head in amazement. “Tough old woman cracks me up, goin’ bonkers with them babies.”

Fingernails clipped and with a bagful of ripe, homegrown tomatoes, I walked home.

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Ants, No Uncles

This summer, for the very first time, some beast has been stealing the nectar from my hummingbird feeder. It began with the feeder on the ground in the morning, the yellow cage thingies plucked and strewn about. Each successive night, the beast managed to drain the feeder without throwing it to the ground. It was evolution on the hoof.

I woke up one night, sleepless in Genehouse, and looked out a back window. And saw what I first thought was a mini triceratops, high hunched back and long tail, running crazily around the yard. It was a racoon the size of a Volkswagen Golf. And I swore that I would destroy Beastie Boy and make me a racoon coat.

I started taking the feeder down at night and putting it in the kitchen sink. With one hand, mind you. The only problem was, black ants would spill out of the yellow thingies. I killed ten or more ants nightly, between right index finger and thumb, making sure the poor critters were totally dead, no torture.

Last night, I brought in the hummingbird feeder and rinsed its surface in the sink, and began the insect massacre. I had the thought that I should eat the ants, full of protein and crunchy.

I turned on Colbert. The monologue was a howl. Then, I started howling. Inside my cast, a burning sensation erupted. Something was crawling in there. A few minutes later, a black ant staggered out the hand hole of the cast. Maybe the flesh cheese of my four-week unwashed arm had poisoned it.

More ants emerged, this time from the armhole, and started climbing Mount Eugene (you would call it a shoulder). I plucked them, crushed them, beheaded them, and Scout the Cat began eating the remains. My left arm felt like it had been lit by Girl Scouts building a fire.

At three a.m., I awoke…and felt a crawling sensation inside my cast. Someone—some…thing—laughed. It was the Lone Formicidae, I thought, the Hannibal Lecter of Vespoidia. It was taunting me by singing Barry Manilow songs. Oh, the horror.

By the pricking of my surgically repaired thumb, something wicked this way come—came. Then, came a knocking on the Genehouse front door, and a tinny, tiny voice said “Kemosabe?” It was Tonto Formicidae, sidekick of the Lone Formicidae.

Tonto had led an army of ants underneath my door. Then, I heard a banging in the kitchen. Then, a gay ant male chorus intoned: “Nevermore.” All went silent. I hovered under the blanket and wept, as Jesus wept, you know, the shortest line in the Bible.

This morning, my hummingbird feeder was pulverized on the kitchen floor, as though someone—some…thing—had smashed it with a thousand tiny ant feet. I am all about irony; I got the message.

At early afternoon, I went down for a nap. Scout the Cat snarled and fled. And I took a deep breath, and I knew what it was. My cast was filled with ant shit. And I wept, as Doris Day wept, you know, in “Send Me No Flowers.”

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The Aeneid and I

I like to sit in my bathroom and read. The west light window is a lure, plus the cool tile floor feels good on bare feet. Yesterday, I was reading Vergil’s “Aeneid” in the original Latin. You know, the part where Venulus says, “We have seen, O citizens, the Argive camp, and Diomed himself” blah-blah-blah.

When I heard a slight noise, like a shuffling, and I leaned forward and peered into the kitchen, and there was Farmer Orville, tiptoeing his way toward the basement, to clean the cat litter box (remember, I’m currently one-handed due to surgery, and can’t lift things).

I exclaimed, “Orville, I’m on the toilet.”

“I ain’t looking,” Orville replied. “You want the cat box cleaned, or not?”

“Orville, you have to knock when you come over.”

“Why? I got a key.”

“What if I had a woman over?”

Orville began heaving with laughter, steadying himself by holding the kitchen counter with both hands. “You are too old for that.”

Down went my friend into the bowels of the basement. I stood and struggled to pull my pants up. And back up the stairs he came, his good deed for a cat he has never seen much appreciated, his using my spare door key without knocking unsettling me, his observation about me and women really pissing me off.

Quilt Queen, Orville’s wife, once said to her spouse—the three of us were drinking coffee on their porch— “I have a need, dear.” She looked at me, at my eye-pop reaction, and said, “When we were newlyweds, if I told that old man I had a need, we about tore the house down. Now, ‘I have a need’ means?”

“Go get her a Dairy Queen blizzard,” Orville said.

This is a couple who, promptly at 6:30 pm, look at each other and say, “Break up time.” Then, Quilt Queen goes into the living room, lies on the couch and watches the big TV. Orville stays in his rocking chair in the kitchen and turns on the small TV and channel surfs and reads seed catalogues.

“You need anything else?” Orville says. “I can do most anything except get you a woman.”

“Please knock,” I said.

“Now you see why I ain’t got any friends.”

My friend descended the drive and walked alongside the highway back toward the farm. And every, I mean every car that passed him, honked and waved at this famous man.

Not unlike, I imagined, Aeneas strutting before the Romans and spouting epic poetry: “I grow tomatoes, I don’t like tomatoes, but women like them, and women visit the farm and buy them tomatoes, all dressed summer skimpy-like, and that is a good thing.”

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Ed

July 2 is Alive Day for Sergeant Ed Matayka, who was blown up while serving as a medic, in Afghanistan, in 2010. His wife Karen, also a medic, served in the same Vermont National Guard unit, the 186th Support Battalion, and was nearby. Doctors told her that Ed would not live.

I was one of Eddie’s teachers. He was a little tow-headed boy when I knew him. Fidgety. A decent kid. Only recently did I learn his story.

Somewhere in the mid-1980s, I got a job as a music teacher at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, north side of Chicago. The principal, Sister Miriam Rose, asked me, if she hired me, what would I do? Without a plan, I blurted out that I would teach the kids to write songs, and the best ones (judged by musician friends of mine) would be recorded in albums, with kids singing. My friend Dennis Gordon had a recording studio, and I hoped I could talk him into the project.

I was hired teaching grades 3-8. And we recorded two albums. Dennis’ band and I recorded instrument tracks at night, smoking grass and drinking beer. By day, I was Mr. B., teacher, on the straight and narrow and attending mass with the students.

Eddie Matayka and his older sister Caryn were part of that project. Their parents, particularly mother Mary, were huge supporters of mine. Indeed, I was adopted into the family. They had me over for dinner regularly, I spent holidays with them. When Grandpa died, I was given his nicotine-stained recliner. There was another child, Katie, born with severe physical handicaps. She died in infancy. I wrote a poem for Katie’s funeral.

My music job only lasted two years, just as I was about to win a playwriting competition and have a production at the Body Politic Theatre. I drifted on, to a 40-year career as a playwright-in-residence for the Illinois Arts Council. The Matayka family moved to near Fox Lake.

At I a.m. on July 2, 2010, out of Bagram Air Force Base, Ed Matayka was in the back seat of an armored vehicle which drove over an IED, a kind of remote controlled bomb. The driver was killed in the explosion. Ed’s feet were blown off. He came to and calmly started saving his own life, telling fellow soldiers how to put tourniquets on his legs. He measured his breaths, knowing he could go into shock at any moment.

Ed was airlifted to Germany on July 4 then to Walter Reed Hospital stateside. He was semi-conscience for six weeks. Both of his legs were amputated. Among many other wounds, he suffered a stroke.

After a brain bleed, Karen was told her husband wouldn’t make it. She insisted to doctors that her husband knew what was going on around him; he was squeezing her hand. A doctor tried an experiment, telling Ed that his wife was a liar. The medical team was going to take Ed off support—if he didn’t give them a sign.

Ed gave them the finger.

Ed and Karen became the first ever military family to receive in vitro fertilization. Today, Ed is a father of twins, Ryan and Alana. He and Karen moved to Texas. Gary Sinise helped publicize Ed’s plight. A special home was built that allows Ed to move around freely with as much physical activity as possible.

Facts.

The courage that Ed Matayka showed is off the charts. That he helped save his own life reveals a deep hunger for living. His drive demonstrates remarkable intelligence and clarity of thinking.

The courage of Mother Mary, who has absorbed so much fear and pain in her life. She texted me recently, telling me how much I gave to the Matayka family. I am nothing compared to this sister of my soul.

We never know what burdens we can bear—until we must bear it, what pain we can take and still go on, what courage we have within us until courage is the only option. I suspect that Eddie agrees.

And so, happy Alive Day, Sergeant Matayka. It is entirely inadequate for me to say that I love you. What words could ever match your bravery.

May there be no more wars for our kids to fight.

This is my meditation, my prayer.

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The Jeff Sessions

Mah daddy, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions Jr., raised me to respect the history of the glorious Confederacy. We were both named for that hero of the South, President Jefferson Davis and P. T. G. Beauregard, the “hero of Fort Sumpter.” That’s raht, mah people started the Civil War. Some patriots are lobbyin’ for me to start the Second Civil War. Will y’all film that, Ken Burns?

It is to honor our brave Confederate soldier boys that Ah am protectin’ the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Whah, the very idea that noble and pure and wholesome Southern women should be forced to live amongst sodomizers is a travesty. Good whaht men venerate their wives’ ‘back doors.’ Horny boys only sodomize sheep in Alabama, to relieve them of unnatural sexual urges.

Ah am appalled at bein’ besmirched and persecuted bah people like that uppity-sassy-saucy-zippety-doo-da niggra Senator Kamala Harris and her disrespectful questions in yesterday’s hearing. Wasn’t so long ago that a colored lady maht be visited by the KKK for insultin’ a Son of the South.

And that “Indian” Elizabeth Warren. She was rebuked for impunin’ a senator’s character. She ought to have been thrown into a smokehouse and cured, lahk Southern gentleman did to uppity slaves.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (see, the darkies can say “colored,” but Ah can’t) and the American Civil Liberties Union are Communist inspahred. Their agenda is to force liberal propaganda down our throats. Ah for one don’t swallah.

Those Democrats have been researchin’ and takin’ mah comments out of contest. Yes, I once remarked that the KKK was okay – until they started smokin’ pot. That was a joke. Can’t nobody take a joke? Wha, that Jew Stephen Colbert, if he made that joke, folks would be laughin’ and peein’ themselves. That sonofabitch said I was “the last Little Rascal.” Me, a Methodist Sunday School teacher!

Senator Ted Kennedy once called me a “disgrace” and “a throw-back to a shameful era.” Wha? Because I sued the so-called Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance – that is wha. Well, Senator Dead Kennedy, at least I didn’t drown Mary Jo McCallister off the Tallahassee Bridge.

For the record: Ah did not have communications with them Russian fellows, sexual or otherwahse. Sergei Kislyak can kiss mah whaht butt. As for that photo which purports to show me jawin’ with Sergei a third tahm, that is photoshopped, plain to see.

Them 60% people want me to resahgn? Ah don’t work for y’all libtards. Ah work for the minority of whaht people because they are an endangered species. Libtards crah their eyes out for bald eagles and butterflahs, but not for whaht people.

Before y’all judge me, look at mah ratings. Pro-environment groups gave me a 7%. Zero rating from the Lesbo Human Rahts Campaign. Senator Joe Al Franken: F. Big Business: A. Coal industry: A. Ted Nugent: A.

Ah rest mah case.

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Orville and Eugene at the Wake

Sunday afternoon, Farmer Orville and I drove to the two-block-long town of Fieldon for our friend Mike West’s wake, at the local Baptist church. I’m uneasy in churches. The more fundamentalist they are, the queasier I get. Orville is a Missouri Synod Lutheran, a sect not known for laughter.

We told Mike stories the whole way. Our friend was known for off-color jokes. If you were around him for the day, you might hear the same joke three or four times. He fudged a little on where his produce came from, especially early in the season.

An old lady might ask, Are these tomatoes homegrown? Are them peaches Calhoun? (Calhoun refers to softball-size peaches from Calhoun County that make Georgia peaches taste like paste.) By mid-July, all the produce would be homegrown anyway.

Sunday was hot and sunny, and thousands of orange tiger lilies lined the highway. We passed by the Do Drop Inn, the parking lot of which was full of afternoon the cars of beer drinkers waiting for the all you can eat pork chop supper. Orville told me all about his and Quilt Queen’s burial plots, like he couldn’t wait to get there. I said if he died first, it would take an hour just to read all the pieces I had written about him. He nodded; he expected no less.

Fieldon has one bar and three churches, two Baptist and a Catholic church in need of paint, a new roof, and sidewalk repair. The good Catholic folk of Fieldon seemed to have given up on a papal visit. “I’m glad Mike wasn’t a Catholic,” Orville said. I didn’t ask.

I have never heard anyone say they were looking forward to the wake. This one was no exception. Mike’s casket was at the front of the sanctuary. His wife Cathy was hugging folks, and family members were shaking hands, and people sitting in the pews shook their heads.

Not once have I seen Orville hug anyone. I imagined he was plotting how to avoid Cathy’s embrace. But he opened his arms wide and almost disappeared into Cathy, who is nearly my height. She and I hugged and kissed and said we’d get together for lunch.

Mike’s adult kids were there. His one daughter and her husband are organic dairy farmers in upstate New York. I told her how proud Mike was of her and she burst into tears. Her dad had never told her that, as it is, sadly, and always shall be with a lot of dads.

As we drove back, I told Orville that now I had seen him hug someone, we could add that intimate act to our visits, and he said he only hugged girls. We stopped at the Jerseyville Dairy Queen for Chocolate Extreme Blizzards. Orville said he was buying, so I told our lovely server in that case I also wanted a bag of ten hamburgers to take home, and my friend did his standing dance, and the girl behind the counter laughed, and “we all had a real good time.”

And Orville and I imagined that Mike, free of cancer, was having a good time, too. I watched my farmer buddy as we sat together, and I memorized him, for the time when memory would be my only solace, and then he spilled Chocolate Extreme Blizzard on his shirt and khaki pants, and I offered to wipe the mess for him, and he said he’d shoot me if I tried.

When he got out of my car, Orville said, “Don’t tell the wife.” He meant the Chocolate Extreme Blizzards, but the damn spots would tell the tale, as Macbeth could have told him.

Here’s to you, Mike. And Cathy, bless you. And Orville, I love you. I could use a blessing too, but heathen existentialists learn to have low expectations.

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Light on the Water

A peach rose up over the town, a perfect pink peach on the horizon, and strands and ribbons of music undulated over the water. Big Brock just sang “Gypsy Woman” so soulful, and his voice blew the tree tops, his mighty voice from heaven.

And the peach rose higher, its light on the water, on the water. And swarms of golden insects filled the headlights, and frogs sang Big Brock echoes. I parked on the river bank and the golden insects dry rubbed my face, filled my nose and ears. This was the last rustling, spring rain. All sound was music, all owlets and fox kits and coyote pups and bobcat kittens all singing.

An anchored barge floated at the shore, its spotlight aimed and lighting the peach, the glowing peach on the water, and even a barge captain prayed and praised and sang “Gypsy Woman.” The peach floated ever higher, brighter light on the water, the water.

And now the peach burst and became the holy woman Luna, more pregnant with every second, rising, and I whispered, Luna, and songbirds on nests whispered Luna, and the orb filled the bluff shadows with eerie light. Big Brock sang Songs of Prose from his holy throat and the holy Oblate Fathers intoned, Amen.

On the road up the bluff, a doe named Gypsy Woman stepped onto the pavement and I stopped and stood in the street and flagged down all the cars, and no one complained. And Gypsy Woman crossed and melded into the forest.

The Big Brock Band sang me up the ridgeline and on to home: lonely blues traveler from the Miles Davis Festival. The corn rows were lit by fireflies, and contrails pink, and the treetop torches, and the light danced.

Who wants to go home when music is blood and blood surges and hearts pound as one when pretty, lithesome women dance and rustle skirts when men in finery strut when old people remember love when Luna touches herself on the water, on the water.

At the door, moths swarmed me. At the door, meowing from inside. At the door, regret. At the door, I thought of Caroline who gasped and orgasmed at a finger touch. At the door, I recited Psalm 100. At the door, barge motors throbbed. At the door, I thought of light on the water, on the water.

I walked in. I held the cat.

Her name was Gypsy Woman.

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Compliments

Farmer Orville was mowing his vast lawn when I visited this morning. He turned off the machine and waved me toward the porch, where we sat in the shade and talked. The farm dogs, Ruby Puppy, Bud and Reba, reeking of stuff they had rolled in, in the north field, lay at our feet.

I told my friend about the finches in my yard being so tame, they land on my shoulders and sing, and I imitate them. Yet another finch nest has been built over my car in the carport roof, and soon baby finch poop will rain down.

“You know why they built there?” Orville said. “They are aiming for your bald head.” He slapped a knee and did his little sit-dance.

The half-acre of blackberry bushes was already pregnant with berries red and plumping up. In a couple of weeks, those sapid jewels will be ready for sucking and tongue smashing. Ninety tomato plants were rising up in wire cages and getting ready to flower. Cucumbers and squash were planted, and so was kale.

The barn cat strutted across the yard with a dead baby bluebird in its mouth. Orville shouted, “Hey, you, cat!” The cat dropped the bird and ran for the barn. Reba loped to the body, tossed it in the air, and swallowed it whole.

“I hate to admit it,” Orville said, “but you are a good writer. We liked that article on them Tuskegee Airmen.” By we, he means his wife Quilt Queen, who has decided that cookies aren’t just for winter anymore. She is baking for the Memorial Day weekend.

Quilt Queen teases me relentlessly about being a bachelor. She believes men need marrying. She decided Orville needed marrying just after he came home, from the Korean War. He had prospects in the heating and cooling industry. (We’ve driven together on I-270, as he points to building roofs where he installed the air conditioning. His favorite story is about fixing a furnace problem for a stark-naked woman who followed him around her house.)

Orville chewed on a toothpick and looked at me. “Don’t let my compliment go to your head.”

Midwesterners don’t approve of compliments. Compliments are unseemly, the recipient in danger of taking himself seriously and wanting more. My father was the anti-compliment giver. He preferred witticisms like, “You, worthless piece of shit.” This was intended to toughen me for life’s journey, and it worked. I hear that sentence every day of my life.

Orville is a humanist in Lutheran’s clothing. And he is my stand-in father. He knows it; I know it. Though, if I were his literal son, I would have been born when he was eleven.

Today, I walked home with a bloody arm scratch from Ruby Puppy, who believes that I should carry her fifty pounds of squirm, and a compliment firmly in my memory, from my stand-in father, confessor, story teller, tomato hater-tomato grower, and damn good friend.

There is no moral to the story. You might be tempted to call a friend and compliment him or her. It won’t compromise your inner “Babbitt” or convert you to godless Communism. Think of it, on Memorial Day, as putting a dab of spicy, liberal mustard on your conservative picnic sandwich, next to the deviled eggs and Beverly the Quilt Queen’s potato salad:

“Wow, Bev, you outdid yourself this time.” And Quilt Queen, awash in compliment, waves a dismissive hand, all the while aglow.

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