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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Monday, November 7, 2011

It sure was a Trick, But It wasn't a treat.

Coley Blackstone wandered outside to look at the stars. His dog Chubby close by his side, he and the little four-legged black and gray rag mop trudged through the 12 inches of snow in the front yard. Chubby was chomping on his saliva slicked plastic banana. There was dead silence for a few moments as Coley looked up, gazing at the constellations.

With no artificial light to dull the brilliant sparkle of the stars, the view was breathtaking. As Coley ran down the list of constellations he recognized in his head, the silence was broken as Chubby bit down on his plastic banana causing it to emit a high pitched squeak. Coley looked down at him briefly and returned his gaze to the sky.

"Look at that, buddy ... You can see the Milky Way!" The dog looked up at him, just for a moment, and then went back to running his wet, black nose through the dense and wet accumulation of snow. In the distance a generator fired up, robbing the scene of its almost mystical solace.

It was Halloween night. There was a foot of snow on the ground. Trick or treaters were no where in sight. The bowl of candy near Coley's front door would remain filled this year. It was far too dangerous to venture out and it was announced by the Sheriff's Department that Halloween had been cancelled.

The ground was liberally littered with tree branches of every shape and size. Tree tops still lush with their green leaves lay on the ground bent in the middle still attached to their shattered trunks. Young birch trees still standing had their tops touching the ground and they were bent in a very radical U shape.

The tree limb which had come to rest on Coley's roof was splayed in two different directions appearing as if a mighty giant, a drunken Paul Bunyan perhaps, had split it down the middle with a dull axe.

The generator starting in the distance had distracted Coley's attention from the stars to the fallen debris littering his neighborhood, downing power lines, destroying property, the fallout from a freakish Nor'easter which had paralyzed Muskrat Flats. The devastation was insurmountable, it seemed like it would be days before power would be restored.

Coley once again addressed Chubby, as he looked up to his master's voice with his snout covered in snow.

"It looks like God is reminding us that he is Still in charge, Chubby. Yep, he's still in charge." Chubby went down into a crouch, began to bark and romp around in circles, ready to play. Now that the silence had been broken by the drone of one generator, Coley trudged back to the house to power up his own. Coley was glad to be alive despite the harrowing ordeal he had endured getting home in the storm the night before ...

Yes, it was an odd week in Muskrat Flats. It was a long, cold, dark week which put Spiritual Principles such as Love, Friendship and Truth to the test.

The neighborhood near the old railroad yard known as the Iron Triangle, just a few short miles from the Odd Fellows' Lodge at the corners of Petersen and McKernan in downtown Muskrat Flats, seemed to escape the devastation as it never lost power. Very quickly long lines formed as residents from the neighboring communities which had lost power, such as Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich flocked to gas stations, banks and supermarkets in the Triangle. This grittier section of town gets its name from the three sets of railroad tracks which essentially surround the neighborhood, leaving you in the situation - no matter where you stood within the Triangle, you were on the wrong side of the tracks.

It was business as usual within the Triangle, probably a little better as the working girls who were doing what they had to do to keep the ball rolling had a somewhat captive audience as the streets of neighborhood were paralyzed, congested with prospective clients.

At the Odd Fellows Lodge, Moe Eckstein and Sid Bartelby sat at their table in the candlelight, warmed by a fire roaring nearby in the stone hearth. They were kvetching about the slow response time of the utility companies. Although the rustic room was warm and illuminated, there was something missing, that being the tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed coffee co-mingled with the sweet fragrant enticement of Iva's blueberry muffins. This situation would be quickly rectified as the young bucks in the kitchen were setting up a mobile kitchen outdoors underneath a 20'x20' tent. By four o'clock, the Odd Fellows were offering freshly brewed coffee, some bread, a steaming bowl of chicken soup and sweets to anyone who wandered in looking for refuge.

Moe marveled at what was going on in the community. He said to Sid.

"Did you see the intersection at the other end of McKernan and Tamalpais?"
Sid replied,

"Are you kidding me? I avoid that intersection like the plague. It is always a mess."

"No kidding, right?" Moe agreed. "I went through it today because I was rerouted by a fallen tree. With no traffic lights at all, that intersection was smooth sailing. I got through in a minute, everybody was cooperating with each other, actually being courteous. Go figure."

Gomer sat with His father and Sid, fiddling as he always did with his iPhone. He barely had one bar which quickly disappeared and gave way to the words "No Service." He groaned to himself and looked up. The flickering of the candle projected a pretty good shadow as the light passed by the stuffed jack-a-lope. Gomer chuckled to himself at the cartoon like quality of the scene, the shadow appropriately looking very much like something you hoped you might NOT see on Halloween.

He was trying to get in touch with Miranda, who had left him three messages. She was worried having seen news reports of the devastation in the area. Things were going good with them. Gomer was at peace with her, and he was very much in love. He had told Miranda what had happened between him and Sveltie after they had left the club and headed toward the Hotel at the Farm Museum last month.

Miranda was a little disappointed when the subject had come up. Gomer bared his soul to her. He told her how he and Sveltie had flirted, He told her about the decision to go off together. He told her about how he and Sveltie held onto to each other, crying, agreeing that they had no right to fix a feeling with a feeling. They had no right to seek each other for comfort. What they had was in the past and it didn't work then for a reason, why would it or could it work now?

Gomer had freed himself somehow by doing the mature thing and not succumbing to taking the easy way out. And he didn't hesitate. He called Miranda right away, moments after he and Sveltie parted ways. All was good. Right now his concern was getting cell service so he could let Miranda know he was okay. He opened his phone and had three bars!! he immediately fired off a lengthy text message. Moments after he sent the message, another iPhone chimed in a three story Victorian house somewhere in the Mission district in the City by the Bay. Miranda smiled and exhaled a sigh of relief.

Across town Sveltie and Jeff assessed the damage at the Farm Museum. They had lost many trees. Between the tornado, the microburst, the hurricane and now this, the skyline of the Farm museum had been radically changed in the Summer and Fall of 2011.

All of the grapes had already been harvested and were safely being stored for wine production. As ravaged as the tree line surrounding the museum had been, only some of the vines had been damaged, and it was minimal.

The early winter storm did impact the business at the Museum as they anticipated a large turn out for the last weekend of the Corn Maze. Although ultimately the winter storm was responsible for people staying away from the Farm Museum for the weekend, earlier in the week, a decision had been made to close the corn maze because of a slight safety issue which had arisen.

It seems that at the end of the day last Sunday, Jeff had sneaked into the corn maze to "relieve himself" as he liked to call it. This means he hid in the corn maze where he promptly downed a half pint of vodka. After he emptied the bottle, He lit a joint. He exhaled after having taken a few puffs, and he heard something rustling in the corn. He quickly extinguished the joint. He walked forward thinking some kids decided to use the corn maze for a similar purpose as he had intended. The rustling got closer. Jeff froze as a mama bear and two of her cubs emerged from the corn. She stopped and looked at the motionless man mere yards in front of her. With a slight grunt she turned around and ran with her two cubs closely following.

The next morning, it was out to the maze to investigate to see if the bears were still around, and they were.

On the outskirts of the maze, the Museum workers had set up a compost area which had included the recent addition of a number of sugar pumpkins and bruised apples. Nearby, Jeff spotted the two cubs cavorting as the mama was feasting on a honey comb which she removed from one of the nearby bee hives, a perk available to the mama bear as a local bee keeper had set up numerous hives there. She just toppled it over and sat there gnawing on the wax and licking up its encased nectar oblivious to the bees swarming around. They had practically set up a smorgasbord for the bears.

There was a group of people who joined Jeff that morning. Everyone wanted to see the bruin family. Sveltie was there as was her assistant, Gina and her fiancee Kurt from the Smithy Shop. Also along for the ride were Sid, Moe, Gomer and Coley Blackstone, who held Chubby firmly in his arms as to not put him in harm's way by allowing him to roam freely in such close proximity to the bears.

After the decision was made, the employees of the Farm Museum went back to work and the Board of directors went back to the Odd Fellows Hall.

Shortly after Moe, Sid, Gomer and Coley settled in the Snow began to fall. It began to fall in large odd shaped flakes, quickly covering the still green autumn lawns and roads with a layer of white. What was previously thought to be a small dusting of snow was quickly acknowledged to be a freakish early season storm by the local weather forecasters. They began to urge viewers to prepare for a wallop as they began to describe what was happening as Nor'easter.

After his time at the Odd Fellows hall, Coley went to the music store where he had recently secured a job as a teacher. Although he hadn't any students as of yet, he felt compelled to hang around the store for a few hours, talking music with the other teachers, however the conversation kept returning to the weather. As nightfall rapidly approached, he finally decided that it was time to head back home to his neighborhood in Triple Creek. He exited the shop and urged,

"Comon, Chubby!" Chubby grabbed his plastic banana, squeaking away as he excitedly followed Coley to the car.

The ride back to Triple Creek was treacherous. The roads out of Muskrat Flats leading to the creek were already a twisting semi navigable trail through densely wooded residential area. The snow was coming down with driving force and the wind began to whip up. He drove at a slow and cautious pace, his tires occasionally feeling like they were losing their traction. Chubby was on the front seat his front paws on the dash board. As Coley scolded him telling him to get in the back seat, he heard the first of what would be many loud cracks as tree branches and trunks began to give way to the combination of the weight of the snow and the ferocity of the wind. It was now dark as he passed houses which had their elaborate Halloween displays now obscured and heavily laden with snow as the bright oranges, greens and yellows shone through the snow fall.

There was another another loud snapping sound followed by a sharp crack. He swerved the slow moving car as another branch gave way taking some power lines down with it. The neighborhood went dark.

Coley's mind began to get away from him. He had that feeling he used to get when he would play alone in the basement of his Grandmother's house, convinced someone was watching him. He slowly dodged a few more felled branches as he crept closer to his neighborhood. Chubby had maneuvered his way back into the front seat. Coley turned a bend, the final hill he had to go down before he could take a right hand turn and pull into his neighborhood.

All the while he kept hearing the loud cracks coming out of the woods as if some unseen monsters were causing devastation as the Wood sprites retreated in fear. He thought he saw demons in the shadows cast by his headlights. Car tail lights at the end of a log driveway looked like red menacing eyeballs staring him down. Chubby, illuminated by the dashboard even looked like his canine teeth had sprouted into fangs while he snarled at the mayhem occurring outside the vehicle. Coley was doing a great job of freaking himself out.

Earlier in the week, someone had slung a large skeleton over one of the branches overhanging Triple Creek Road. The skeleton was about five feet tall, secured to the tree by a noose around its neck. Coley had seen this skeleton numerous times, thinking it was a neat decoration. He wondered how and when someone had taken the time to get it up there. It hung from a branch about 20 feet in the air.

Tonight however he was more focused on the road and getting home safely. He had forgotten about the skeleton. His paranoid thoughts, thoughts of Ghouls, Goblins and Orcs waiting in the shadows prepared to viciously garott him and feast on his quivering flesh as he gasped struggling for that one last breath, whisked him away to a place he did not want to be. He began to talk himself down. None of that shit is real. This is just a crazy storm. No one is coming to get you. He reached over and mussed up Chubby's hair as Chubby looked at him with normal sized canine teeth in his mouth.

Coley heard another loud crack. Coley saw the branch before them begin to fall and quickly applied the brakes safely sliding to a stop.

Fortunately for him and Chubby the branch ahead of them was still attached to the tree. What Coley failed to anticipate was the the falling branch would launch the forgotten skeleton hanging from the branch into the air. He shrieked as the skeleton landed right across the windshield. Coley was screaming! Chubby was barking and the skeleton was peering into the car smiling with the noose still around his neck. The road wasn't blocked, so Coley floored the gas pedal. The tires whined slipping on the slicked road. As quickly as it had fallen across the windshield, the skeleton was whisked up and over the car as they made their getaway.

Moments later, he was in his driveway, furiously panting. He turned off the car and he and Chubby raced into the house and locked the door.

Yes, another fine holiday has come and gone. The cast of characters in Muskrat Flats is shaken but not stirred. But for Coley Blackstone after the snow began to melt and the clean up had been done, the thoughts of a warmer destination with less threatening weather crossed his mind, just to get away for a week or so. If that were my criteria, I don't think I would pick San Francisco as he did. He called Gomer and asked him if he wanted to accompany him as he prepared to be ...

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You want me to do what on my handkerchief?

I has been a very interesting week in Muskrat Flats. There have been overflow problems at the Farm and Agricultural Museum. It seems that more people and vehicles want to visit the place than can be accommodated.

Then again, who can blame them? The place is gorgeous. The vineyards are lush and in the process of being harvested. The surrounding hills emanate vibrant oranges, reds and umbers creating the most amazing visual panorama. The Bartelby's are fast at work with the help of the Odd Fellows as they labor underneath a 10x10 pagoda style tent emblazoned with three links of a chain each with a letter outlining their basic guidelines -

Friendship, Love and Truth.

Under this tent, shielded from the early October sun, they are selling copious amounts of warm blueberry muffins with either hot coffee, mulled cider or a crisp cold carton of milk.

As I surveyed this scene, I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting in his chair in the shade of the grand oak tree outside Sheriff Hawthorne's office. He was a veteran. He was in full dress uniform, Army infantry. He probably had served in World War II. Out of place on the uniform, but very appropriate was a red "Buddy Poppy." He was a handsome man with combed back white hair. From a distance, especially with the poppy on his uniform which signified the blood spilled in the First World War, the man bore a startling resemblance to my long deceased Grandfather.

As I took in the lush landscape it reminded me of what the homeland - Poland, might have looked like this time of year. Perhaps even what the steppes of the Carpathian Mountains might have looked like in the days of his youth.

Dziadziu (Jah Ju) we called him, was the patriarch of our clan. He was a proud veteran of WWI, He was a sharp shooter who was wounded in battle. An injury for which he was awarded the purple heart. He was a free and liberal thinker who always did whatever it took to provide for his family. Rumor has it there was a still located somewhere on his property during prohibition.

At one point, His house had burned down and he built a one room shack to provide his family with shelter using whatever materials he could find. He grew his own vegetables and hunted for meat. During the great depression, he was without a paycheck for three years. Although there were hardships, through his and my grandmother's hard work and diligence, the family was always sheltered and fed.

One time, during the Depression, a group of people were in his fields, harvesting some vegetables. My Grandmother demanded,

"Peter, do something!" He simply replied,

"I can't, they are hungry."

Things did finally settle down for my grandfather and his clan. He eventually went back to work securing a job in a drop forge. A job from which he eventually retired. One of his sons was a veteran or WWII and one of his grandsons served in Vietnam.

The funny part about the three generations of warriors was their totally different experiences. Dzaidziu used to tell me tales of what went on in France. How he had been injured as an artillery shell detonated in close proximity as it pierced the mess kit he was holding in his hands. Miraculously he survived the blast. He would point out areas on his body where there was still German shrapnel embedded in his skin.

My Uncle, never spoke of his experiences as a pilot in the Pacific Theater during WWII. All I knew of his tour of duty was that he was a pilot at the Battle of Midway. His son, my cousin, went to Vietnam where he seemed to have a grand old time hanging out on the beach and maintained Army helicopters.

As a youngster, I was just about 5 years old at the time, I used to love to sit there and listen to my Grandfather recall his experiences from what he described as the Last Gentleman's War.

My Grandfather, Peter Bukowski was born in Southeastern Poland near the Carpathian Mountains in a village named Frysztak. He was the son of a Horse Farmer. As he was approaching his later teen years, Kaiser Wilhelm had annexed Poland as part of the Austrian empire. The foundation for what would become WW I was being laid. Young men my grandfather's age were being conscripted into the Kaiser's Army at a rapid rate.

In 1914, my Great Grandmother did not want her son to join the Kaiser's Army, so she put my Grandfather on a boat to Ellis Island to join his brother Frank who was living in Three Rivers, MA. Falling ill on his first trip across the Atlantic, my grandfather was denied entry into the US and sent back to Europe, where his mother promptly put him on another boat and sent him back to the US.

His story is that his mother kicked him out of the house when he was a teenager. From my point of view it looked like she was protecting her son.

Once settled in the US, Peter joined the US Army Where he was shipped over to France during WWI. There he was taught to speak English by a Frenchman. So you can imagine the accent my grandfather had. It was a thick Polish accent sprinkled with obvious French pronunciations and flourish. Part of listening to his stories was the love I had for my Grandfather's accent which was oft mimicked in my youth and beyond.

I understood what he meant by calling WW I the last Gentleman's War when he spoke of a Christmas Day where soldiers from opposite sides remembered the spirit of the season, together, only to once again be battling each other in the trenches, the very next day.

What didn't register with me as far as the conflict being a Gentleman's War was his recollection of the harrowing stories of the use of poison gas on the allied troops by the German Army.

In 1899 and again in 1907 international meetings were held in Den Hague in the Netherlands where representatives from various countries met. Out of these meeting came The Hague Conventions. Some of the points addressed at the conventions were the rules of war and more particularly prohibiting the use of chemical weapons in war fare. Sadly the documents of the agreement were obscurely worded which left doors open for interpretation, and were, in the long run, ultimately disregarded.

The first instance of chemical warfare in WWI was perpetrated by the French Army in August of 1914, where they had employed turpinite grenades in an attack on the German Army which left many soldiers dead due to asphyxiation.

The Germans had procured documentation that the French Army had developed these grenades and decided to disregard The Hague Conventions as well. Their first attempt was launching a shell containing tear gas which did not dissipate because the chemicals did work properly due to freezing conditions.

The Germans tried again, this was done successfully in April of 1915 at the Battle of Ypres where the Germans launched shells containing chlorine gas at the trenches occupied by French and Algerian Troops. This worked so well that even the Germans were startled at the result and failed to effectively advance their front lines.

Eyewitness accounts recall that these troops were initially deemed cowards by soldiers further back in the trenches as they witnessed their hasty retreat from the wafting greenish yellow cloud.

These accusations were promptly laid by the wayside as the cloud began to burn the eyes and lungs of the allied troops causing severe respiratory distress and in many cases asphyxiation. Those who fared the worst were the already wounded at the bottom of the trenches and on the ground as the heaviest concentration of the chlorine gas traveled closest to the ground.

My grandfather spoke of burns and blisters he had witness from the use of mustard gas as well.

In the winter of 1970, I was 5 years old, not yet in school. My brother was 8 and in third grade. My brother, also named Peter, a nod to my grandfather and my Father's middle name, was always a tinkerer. He would create things and take things apart to see how they worked. He was always doing different experiments with me looking on. I used to frustrate the hell out of him as I analyzed the situation and simply declared,

"It won't work, Peter." His frustration was usually compounded by the fact the more often than not, I was right and they didn't work.

One of the hot spots we used to frequent was located at the Eastfield Mall. There, out in the open, not behind locked cases, long before the concept of homeland security was on the front burner, was my brother's Shangri La, his utopian supply depot for the ingredients required for most of his experiments, the Kaybee Toy and Hobby Store. You heard me, the Toy Store.

There at Kaybee, of course you could buy toys. What they also had was racks of balsa wood which could be used in the construction of model planes, ships and rockets. They also had model plane motors, fuel, model rocket "engines" and ... chemicals. A whole rack of multicolored glass jars filled with chemicals. In addition to the chemicals you could buy glass jars, laboratory apparatus, glass tubing of all sizes, rubbers hoses and stoppers.

Once my brother recalled he bought all of the ingredients for making gun powder, which fortunately didn't work. The clerk asked him what he was going to make, he simply replied "... gonna just experiment."

One of these "experiments" was burning strips of magnesium which produced a shockingly white and bright flame.

"I used to make ethanol, too. I'd burn strips of wood over an alcohol burner." This was done in a stoppered test tube with a tube going into another test tube which would catch the condensed alcohol.

"It was cool and it smelled good," He said.

My brother was a sickly child, often experiencing loss of breath and strength. It was determined that he had problem with his heart which could be corrected with surgery. It was during this time frame, as my brother lay in bed before and after his surgery that the plans were laid for possibly his most dangerous, and assuredly most successful experiments.

"It was January. I was in the hospital for a number of weeks. Someone had given my some chemistry books to read while I was in there." My brother recalled.

"They were advanced books probably high school or college. Certainly not a 3rd grade level," He chuckled as he recalled.

"I remember the night before my surgery the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me about the procedure the next day. He saw the books and was pretty impressed that an 8 year old was reading them." Peter went on,

"He told me he was going to give my some nitrous oxide before my surgery and asked me if I knew the chemical formula for it. I told him NO2. Not quite right (the formula is N2O) but he was impressed regardless. One of the books was pretty much a recipe book for different experiments and reactions. One of them was for chlorine gas."

When Peter got home from the hospital and he was convalescing and regaining his strength he put his plans into action.

"I couldn't get out of the house to buy chemicals so I used what was handy. In this case chlorine bleach and Drano. The experiment not only worked, but worked well."

I asked if it occurred to him what he was doing could be harmful?

"It didn't ... if I thought what I was doing was harmful or a health hazard, I wouldn't have proceeded. I wasn't secretive about it, because I didn't think I was doing anything wrong."

Peter put together the apparatus. He had three bottles. In the first bottle was chlorine bleach. In the second bottle was Drano. The third bottle was empty. These tthree bottles were connected by rubber stoppers equipped with connecting tubes of both glass and rubber hose.

Peter put the chemicals in the bottles and attached the stoppers. Immediately the the reaction began.

"You could see yellow gas pouring out of the tubes, it was really cool. It was working for a few minutes." As we sat there watching the experiment,

Dziadziu, who was upstairs with my Mom, came into the basement to see what his young grandsons were up to. He took one look at the apparatus and his his face went white. He didn't need a road map to know what was happening in those bottles his grandchildren were peering into.

He picked up the bottles and rushed deep into the woods behind our suburban house. He came out of the woods shortly afterwards, wheezing and gasping with a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. Who knows, perhaps he used one of the tricks he learned in WWI to combat and diminish the affects of the gas. You see, Chlorine gas is water soluble. If you breathe through a water soaked rag, it would protect you from the gas. It was even more effective if the water contained urea which would further and more efficiently neutralize the chlorine gas. In the trenches the best source for urea was found in their own urine.

My grandfather really didn't say anything to us directly. But my Mother heard it,

"Jesoos Chrrrist!" He yelled, "That is vhat the Germans used begainst our troops in Vorld Var I!"

That was quite a startling memory to both me and my brother as we reminisced recently.

My brother simply said, "That was end of my fun."

It is amazing what we used to not only do, but get away with as children. I don't ever recall using a seat belt when I was young. We used to have full run of our neighborhood, spending hours unattended in the adjoining woods going for lengthy hikes or running with the pack of kids our age, just generally being unsupervised. It is not that our parents didn't care what was happening with us. It was just a different time. It was a different world.

There were no milk cartons to put pictures of missing children on, milk came in glass bottles. Delivered by a man whose name you knew. Someone you trusted who would give you a ride from your house to your Grandfather's house as you stood up in the milk truck, just like he did when he drove from stop to stop.

It was a time in our lives when principles which are held in high esteem by the Odd Fellows, Friendship, Love and Truth were held near and dear and were codes by which people, at least the ones I knew, lived their lives.

I can't imagine letting my child partake in some of the activities in which I used to engage when I was a preteen. I'm sure my brother, who is a very doting and protective father of three teenagers, feels the same way.

First of all a lot of the situations that I am discussing are now illegal due to laws which have been passed to protect our children and society. But other activities such as making poisonous gas, just defy common sense.

As my teenaged daughter gets older, and she is asserting her independence, I realize that there will be a time where I have to let her fall. A time where I have to allow her to have her own life experience of defeat or failure, where she will undoubtedly pick herself up and dust herself off. But that doesn't mean she can't benefit from my experience and I can prevent her from stepping on some landmines or worse a bottle of poisonous gas.


I'll just simply encourage you to Go in Peace as I am once again,

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Maybe Somebody should tell him ... or "I'm so vain I probably think this blog is about me."

Gomer Eckstein sat in the back of the darkened room. He was in a bad space and up in his head. He had just had another fight with Miranda. It wasn't a total blowout, but she decided perhaps it would be a good idea to get away for a few days, so she decided to go back to San Francisco.

Although he was agitated that he had caused her to leave, in fact by the time she had left that afternoon, after his gig, they had patched things up a bit and it was a pleasant farewell. Deep down, Gomer was just as happy to have a few days to himself.

By the time he had gotten to the club, the sting began to settle in a bit and he was beating himself up again. He did have a good time chatting with his friends Sean and Sherrill from the band Rail Rider. They always seemed to have a positive outlook on things.

Gomer sat and awaited his turn as the featured performer at the open mic left the stage. Gomer liked this room. It was a quiet little sober club where not many people knew him as the front man for the Hook Nosed Satans.

He was dressed incognito, not wearing his black "get up" as his father like to call the outfit Gomer's stage persona donned for every performance. He looked a far cry away from the guy who just last year caused a furor by pulling a vegetarian out of the audience, actually his girlfriend Miranda) and whipping her bare back with a cat o nine tails fashioned with raw strips of bacon ... 39 times, just for shits and giggles.

Every fearful of being alone, Gomer asked Sveltie to join him for the evening. Her husband Jeff didn't join them because he was "somewhere else" as she said. Gomer gathered from that comment that the last place Jeff wanted to be was at a sober club.

Gomer looked over to the corner of the room. There was a guy he had seen once or twice before hanging around the fringes of the scene, who was rummaging around with a guitar in one hand and a sloppily wound instrument cable in the other. He had tucked under his arm a black plastic binder overflowing with spindled, crushed and folded pages protruding from the insides.

Gomer poked Sveltie and said, "What's up with this guy?"

He was holding an old Stratocaster which looked like it had seen years of action. The guy was an old rocker. Late fifty-ish, wearing black jeans, a black leather vest which deftly contained his paunch. A head band was stretched around his thinning black hair. He had a dangling nose ring and a couple of visible tattoos, a rose and what appeared to be a Bonedaddy tattoo and some tribal feather like patterns.

Sveltie leaned in and whispered , "He looks like an unhealthy Keith Richards, if there is such a thing." Gomer laughed.

"I was thinking more along the lines of if Ron Wood and Johnny Ramone had somehow spawned." Sveltie laughed and smacked Gomer in the arm.

Gomer went up and did his three songs. He played a new tune he had written which he butchered, forgetting of all things on of the chords. He started over and made his way through the tune, later giving an offhand apology for screwing up the tune. He was beating himself up for his lack of preparedness.

As he got back to his seat, Sean grabbed him and said, "you know the cardinal rule number one. Never apologize for sharing your music!" Gomer replied,

"I know I know ..." ugh!

Gomer's angst soon dissipated as the guy he and Sveltie had been checking out made his way to the stage.

Very slowly.

It took him a long time to set up. He almost seemed bewildered or even high as he got his shit together. The guy was obviously a casualty of years of drug and alcohol abuse. Gomer was aghast as this guy just farted around for minutes fiddling with the guitar cable, then the microphone which was about a foot and a half away from his mouth. Then the music stand. He then left to the stage to retrieve yet another equally unkempt and dilapidated binder leaving a trail of dropped pages in his wake as he made his way back to the stage.

As he strapped on his guitar, he started talking, which no one could hear because his mic was so far away.

The sound man had a blank expression on his face which clearly read, "You gotta be fucking kidding me!" The guy from the Glenwood Mills Band was on the edge of his seat, his hand over his mouth hiding a smile, trying to conceal his amusement. What on earth was about to happen?

It could have gone either way Gomer thought, either this is going to be awful or he is going to be the best guitar player he had ever heard.

Then he hit his first chord. It was ... awful. It sounded like a 12 year old who was playing his first chord ever on a guitar after turning the reverb and drive WAY up on his amp. He began singing which again, no one could hear because of the placement of the mic and slowly worked his way through the chords of the unrecognizable tune he was playing.

Gomer thought to himself. "This can't be ... NOBODY is that bad." People began to get up from their seats and head outside for either a smoke, a breath or fresh air, or even better, a breath of second hand smoke.

There was an exodus as one by one, people left the room. The crowd outside was abuzz with their comments and criticisms of what was happening inside. Gomer stood on the rail of the ramp and watched the guy through the window picking up reflected flashes as the stage lights hit the guy's nose ring.

Again Gomer said this can't be. After the guy got off the stage, people meandered back into the club. Gomer was in the hallway discussing the topic at hand when the guy walked by. A friend of Gomer's engaged the guy in a brief conversation encouraging him. Gomer quietly observed. First he noticed that the dangling nose ring was a clip on. Then he noticed that the tattoos were a little too shiny. They were temporary.

Hmm ...

Gomer and Sveltie began to chat when he was out of ear shot.

"What do you make of that guy? He was so bad. Maybe somebody should tell him." She proposed. Gomer scoffed.

"Go ahead, you tell him. All I know is that I forgot how I thought I had butchered my new tune." When he said that some guy piped up and stuck out his hand,

"Dude, you were awesome, You got really good lyrics, man!" Gomer thanked him. Sveltie Smiled, winked, leaned in and whispered to Gomer, "Mr. Rock star ... But what about that guy?"

Gomer thought for a moment. Sveltie looked at him expectantly.

"Seveltie, he was sooo bad that it can't possibly be. The nose ring is a clip on, the tattoos are fake, the whole package is so over the top that I suspect there is a bigger picture we are missing."

"And what do you think that is?" Sveltie asked.

"Either he is completely nuts, which is possible and he thinks what he did is acceptable or we just witnessed some type of Dadaist performance art piece that was perpetrated with one purpose in mind ... to clear the room of the patient, respectful and attentive listening audience which shows up here on a regular basis."

"Comon Gomer ..."

"No I'm serious! Nobody can play the guitar that badly, even a beginner who just sat down with their new "how to play CD" from Esteban could put together a three chorder." Sveltie laughed.

"You can only play that badly, if you actually know how to play."

"I don't know Gomer, you have some pretty weird ideas sometimes. You know how you are always proclaiming, "what a weirdo!" she mimicked him.

"Takes one to know one ..." She leaned in for a hug.

Then a 18 or 19 year old kid walked up to them.

"Uh ...." He piped up. "Aren't you Gomer Shabbos from the Satans?" Sveltie just looked at Gomer and Smiled. "Can you sign this?" The kid handed Gomer a Sharpie and as he held out his White Ibanez bass guitar.

"I didn't know you were in recovery, Gomer. I saw you sit in with PRY last summer at Shoreline. You guys rocked!"

"Thanks kid, what's your name?"

"Kyle, I been sober for about 6 months." Gomer smiled. He signed the bass, dug into his pocket and gave the kid his card with his cell number.

"Keep up the good work man, if you ever get that feeling like you're gonna pick up, give me a call first, we'll rap." The kid was wide eyed.

"I'll do that Gomer!!!" He walked away beaming. Gomer watched him walk away and got that warm feeling inside. He looked at Sveltie.

"What's up with Jeff?" Gomer asked.

"He's not been available for the last month or so. Probably passed out by now." Gomer hung his head, feeling the swirling excitement, which he knew would be quickly followed by rising guilt.

"That's too bad ..."

"When is Miranda coming back?" Sveltie asked.

"Next week, she coming to the Red Rocks gig with me." Sveltie squeezed his hand and with that mischievous twinkle Gomer knew so well said,

"Let's go to Sherrif Hawthorne's hidey hole at the hotel and see what we can find."

Gomer looked down at the ground then into her eyes and said,

"I'd like to do that ..."

Gomer and Sveltie walked away together, hand in hand, feeling only the excitement of the moment, just mere hours away from feeling the pain of regret. Perhaps this time it will be different?

Probably not.

The two lovers disappeared into the night, leaving behind a great evening of entertainment and amusement, once again seeking to find what just didn't or couldn't exist between them as they once again were off to the races as they were both ...

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats

Hard Labor

It has been a very busy year in Muskrat Flats. I am chagrined to look at the date of my last post, since writing, theoretically, is one of my passions. I seem to be visiting Muskrat Flats with the frequency that I'd go to church earlier in life - only on the BIG holidays.

In some ways I have been flourishing in my life, moving forward with the passion and tenacity of a gifted teenager who can't decide upon which of the numerous summer internships I have been offered. Each one of these, most assuredly would be a stepping stone to bigger and better things and a guarantee to future success.

In many ways, in fact, too many to count, I have all of the tools in front of me, all of the necessary equipment and raw materials I need to produce the same results as I had described in the previous paragraph. But, for whatever reason I am stuck on stupid. One thing is for sure. I can't linger where I am much longer. The results - well, I can't say they will be disastrous, because there will be NO results.

My Grandfather used to say, "Work Hard it is good for you."

My faults lie in the fact that I am not afraid of physical labor, I just seem to be incapable of preparing myself mentally and organizing myself in such a way that there will be no labor pains.
The fact that I am writing about it indicates to me that I have come to the end of the road and must seek a way to overcome the unfounded fears and trepidations which are preventing me from moving forward and succeeding. But I must digress and flash back many years and a few months. Leaving the chilly crisp fall mornings behind in favor of the warmer dew dipped mornings of late spring.

Labor Day has always been an odd holiday for me. I recall my early years around 1971-72, when my brain was really starting to wake up and process my surroundings in a more advanced cognitive capacity.

Labor Day much like Memorial Day was a sad event.

I recall many a Memorial Day as being somber, especially after my Grandmother and Grandfather had passed on. I recall my observing all of the flags at half mast. I knew what that signified after having read a scouting manual. World War II was still a not so distant memory to the adults in my family, and the US was still entrenched in the Vietnam War.

One of my Memorial day memories recalls a trip I took to a cemetery along Berkshire Ave. with my childhood playmate, Jackie and her family. Her Father, a National Guardsman put on his dress uniform with all of his medals and accoutrements, complete with a saber, and took us to visit his parent's grave site, where he lovingly placed a wreath of flowers. I think that was the first time I'd ever seen a grown man shed tears. Mr. Laurino was larger than life to me. He was a good neighbor and family man. I felt really bad for him. That experience definitely put a damper on MY day. (even then it was all about me)

My Birthday.

I was born into a semi-silent world on May 29, 1964.

Having your birthday fall on a holiday like Memorial Day is an odd pairing for a person as sensitive as myself. I'm sure my my brother and sister can identify with where I am coming from with this thought. My brother's birthday is earlier in the week on the 24th and my sister ... I stole her her thunder as I was born on her 10th birthday. Poor kid. I'm not sure I would like me for a birthday present.

Being born on a holiday like Memorial Day does put a damper on things like planning a birthday party. It is not quite the same experience as if you were born the third week in September. Everyone was either going to a picnic with their families or heading up North to go camping in the mountains or to the coasts of Northern New Hampshire or Southern, Maine.

I recall many Memorial Day picnics at my Uncle Rudy's house. His property was a secluded semi-forested sprawling landholding which used to be owned by my grandfather. Even though the house itself was situated on route 20, the property had a very spacious and welcoming feel. there were tall Ponderosa pines and other types of conifers, birch trees, maples and oaks, There was a little pond and wetland area which filtered into a little stream. If you went up the hill behind the house near where the high tension wire power lines had been placed - The reason my Grandfather had to vacate that portion of the property, you would find wild blackberry, raspberry and blueberry bushes.

It was great place for a picnic. Everyone chipped in with various picnic foods. A guy whose name I only recall as Rosie, perhaps he was a Harrington, from my aunt's side of the family. Rosie would man the grill. He was cooking over white hot lumps of charcoal in a brick fireplace my uncle had built back there. Rosie only had one arm. Perhaps he lost it in the war or some awful industrial accident. But he sure as shit could flip a burger with that good arm.

Like the miscreants we were when we would get together sometimes, my brother and I would endlessly amuse each other by tucking one arm behind ours backs and pretending to flip burgers with one arm. One thing that sticks in my mind about Rosie and something I still use today when I'm cooking, was a relish he used to make. All it is, is a mound of caramelized onions with ketchup in it. Take a couple of quarts of that, pour it over some beef short ribs and cook them slowly covered in an oven for about three or four hours and you will not believe the results from starting with such simple, nondescript ingredients.

Underneath another pine tree, not too far away from the grill, you would find my grandfather, his patriarchal equal from the other side of the family, Mr. Harrington, and various male uncles and cousins sitting in folding chairs. My Grandfather would cup his ear and lean forward straining to hear the transistor radio which had been tied to a tree branch as his beloved Boston Red Sox made their way through nine innings. Those were the days of Carl Yazstremski, Cecil Cooper, George Scott and Rico Petrocelli, Pitchers like Bill Lee, Jim Lonborg and Sparky Lyle kept us on the edge of our seats hoping that this season would be the big one. The last time my grandfather saw the his team win the World Series was in 1918. He would never again see his team win the World Series as his 90 plus year life came to an end.

Those picnics were unpredictable. You never knew what was going to happen. I remember one time someone broke out a shotgun and My MOTHER firing the gun at the urgings of her not so particularly sober brothers, into a dirt cliff across from the pond. Yes there was not a shortage of alcohol at these events. "Handle" bottles of Vodka and Seagram's 7 with mixers such as O.J., bloody Mary mix and Ginger Ale adorned a sloppy and wet card table. My extended family took their drinking seriously.

One thing I especially remember was at this very young age, if I could have gotten away with it, I probably would have been sneaking a drink or two because it sure seemed like fun. Little did I know this type of lifestyle with the inclusion of drugs, prescription, street and otherwise would be my cross to bear later in life. It is a cross which is still presumably carried by two of my estranged cousins and one surviving Uncle.

OK, back to the Fall, 38 years later. Whew, what a time warp!

This year, Labor Day and the subsequent weekends were spent rocking out with the Glenwood Mills Bands at various recovery based events such as Sober In The Sun and Recovery Jam 2011.

The band is flourishing, that is due to the help of a very dear friend, whose wisdom and vision and tenacity have been a catalyst for great things. If I haven't said "Thank You!" enough, I am saying it again right now.

Sometimes I ruminate about those days gone by, days like the picnics, the sad reality of the passing of loved ones, the sting of regret after fights with friends and lovers and associates which could have been avoided had I taken an extra moment to think.
These thoughts cause me to be overcome with grief and pain. The pain, sometimes, seems unbearable, to the point where rational thought is somehow obscured and a detachment between the physical and mental and the spiritual sides of my life occur.

It is at these times that I think using is not such a bad idea. Prayer and meditation do help as well as keeping connected with a network of good people who can hold me up when I begin to falter and get bogged down in the stagnant quagmire of my obsessive thoughts. I got some good advice last week. Simple and to the point ...

"Stop Thinking."

Today life is good. I woke up at 5:30 AM. I got up, made the coffee and a couple of plates of pancakes which my daughter and I shared before I drove her to school for 7:15.

It is a perfectly normal fall day as I sit and wait for the colorful and vibrant foliage to brighten the horizon, surrounding mountains and hilltops.

The Sun has had a long hard summer. It had to do some catching up after a brutal winter. It was further hampered during the summer as Muskrat Flats was visited by a debilitating Tornado, a micro burst and a near miss by a category 3 hurricane, which had been downgraded to a tropical storm as it approached these parts, but wreaked havoc in other parts. We caught the eye of the storm, so to speak, so we were spared a good amounts of flooding that our neighbors to the the east and west had to endure. But things look different around here. You can see more sky as the tree tops had been snapped off by the recurring high winds. But today, we go on.

Labor Day just doesn't seem the same without Jerry Lewis, but I don't own a TV, so even that wasn't too much of a burden to bear as I pack up my gear, tune the guitars and look forward to the next gig. The best reason I have encountered, to date, to be ...

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.