Watching The Fish

The little ones so often have it right.

I caught one of my nephews the other day enjoying himself on the kitchen floor. No, not with one of the fancy electronic toys that had a shelf life of about a month before going into the notorious toy bin, nor one of his many themed toys that, like all kids before him, he's grown into and out of within several months.

He was floating and spinning on artificial wooden planks that made up the kitchen floor inside a big rectangular fruit carton box.

Another time, he stood propped up on a chair next to the fish tank, enraptured. He caught sight of me and yelled that I should be watching the fish. I asked why.

"Because I like to watch the fish," he replied.

The box. The fish. Maybe it's the Dr. Seuss philosophy that we adults sometimes forget.

The simple can be the most imaginative. The most carefree. And the most fun.

Now maybe it's time I catch sight of those same fishies, if only for a few moments.



I remember as a kid having a lot of fun with those cheap 9-volt battery-powered walkie-talkies you bought at the toy store.

Sure, the reception was crappy and the range was limited, but it was fun to hear someone's voice from so far away.

Twitter to me seems like the internet version of those old walkie-talkies. Through a computer or an internet-enabled cell phone (a fancy version of a walkie-talkie, if you think about it), you can update anyone who wants to follow you on your progress throughout the day.

Twitter seems the next big thing in social networking - many famous people tweet their progress many times a day, and in this day of fast-arising events, this instant updating ability has shown its potential - I recall checking in on some Twitter logs a few times as Hurricane Ike roared onshore near Galveston, Texas.

I have no need for such a service, and I doubt I'd need it in the near future. But during some idle time on the bus today, I thought of a variation that would probably have only the heartiest and most dedicated of followers - TMI-tter.

(Note: this train of thought has no relation to, nor was influenced by, an actual Twitter-oriented keyword tracking service website called Tmitter, which I just discovered existed literally a few minutes before I typed this post.)

On my vision of TMI-tter:

- every visit to the latrine would be drippiliciously scrutinized.

- Kermit the Frog would not be serenading folks about a "Rainbow Connection", when colors like puke-yellow, split-pea green and fudgy brown are predominant.

- words like "turducken" and "scabby" and phrases like "lung butter" would be commonplace.

- graves everywhere would sport "vacancy" signs, as millions of better-left-untold secrets would never complete that fateful journey.

- the 1960's experiment with Smell-O-Vision would earn an unfortunate renaissance

- oh, those colors I mentioned? Many of them would be associated with the word "stain"

- "Oooh, my (insert body part here) shouldn't be bending that way" would be so often tweeted, a variation of the line will end-up in a top-selling hip-hop tune.

Yeesh...Okay, enough of that - TMI is TMI indeed.

I think I've only scratched the surface of "potential" for this concept. And no, potential does NOT have a scabby surface either (thank goodness!)


Just A Place To Call Your Own

"That's the third time we've crossed that river," Pauline sighed as she idly watched nature blur by the window beside her.

"I think that's a different one, Paulie-girl." Trent brushed her long stringy ebony hair casually as he stared blankly forward. After a long two days, the downtown area and, more importantly, their destination were in sight.

"Lots of trees anyway," she muttered, as she closed her eyes and snuggled closer.

Trent kept his focus forward as the bus made its exit from the freeway. It had been many hours of crimped necks, cheap food, and numerous, sometimes foul-smelling strangers. In fact, he realized that he and his partner could badly use a shower themselves.

They had never been outside of Ohio prior to this journey, and the kaleidoscope of fluttering farm fields, high-arching mountains, and now deep green forests were almost too much overload for their uncertain psyches. He knew that he just wanted it to be over; his girl had had no problems telling him such ever since they boarded the bus back on Chester in Cleveland.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching the station in Eugene..." The bus driver's crackling announcement awoke Pauline from her stupor. She raised her eyelid and groaned, "So much for our holiday."

Trent chuckled audibly. "Heh - you can't find the words to say."

Pauline glanced up at him confusedly as Trent continued. "You said we'd run away together. And spend some time forever."

"Wha?" Pauline pulled slightly away from Trent.

Trent smiled out loud and broke into tune. "We'll never feel bad any-morrrre."

She snickered. "Ha! Hip Hip." Her boyfriend joined in the chorus. "Hip Hip." However, Trent's third verse was interrupted. "Hip hey ohhh..."

"What?" Trent's fade and dissolving smile caused Pauline to sit up at attention. Turning toward the window, she caught sight of what Trent had spotted - a blackened bus station exterior and a gutted interior. Fire had apparently raged through the building seemingly not to long ago; the bus seemingly had slowed down to accentuate the numbing effect on their two minds.

Suddenly Trent reached into his left coat pocket and pulled out his belongings in there. A couple of twenty-dollar bills, a few singles and some odd change; a piece of paper with a phone number; a half-eaten Snickers bar; and a couple of crumpled napkins lay in his half-clasped hand, causing him to lightly clench his lips and take a deep breath.

"Trent?" He stared into her hazel green eyes; her expression duplicated the one she flashed the exact moment he told her of his plan to leave and overcome their circumstances behind, and that Oregon would be as good a place as any to do so.

"It's going to be fine." He kissed her gently as the bus lumbered itself over the curb toward its eventual resting spot.


Radio Free Aleppo

Occasionally I'll be posting about some of my experiences in Syria from late 2008. This is one of them...

Damascus' hectic cityscape had now faded into the arid brush and dirt of the high Syrian desert as the sun started its rise from behind the horizon. For most of us, this would be our first time outside of the city borders since our airplane trip into the country, and we had been looking forward to seeing the historic sites outside of Syria's capital. However, the early hour we had to wake - even earlier than most of our workdays so far - left most our contingent bleary-eyed as we loaded up and started off toward the ancient city of Palmyra.

The travel agent had assured us that our vehicle could hold 10 people easy, but that proved to be something of a reach for our group. There was no room to stretch out, so bodies turned askew and legs and feet lay at odd angles as people straddled over belongings as well as each other.

The surrounding land, covered with scrub brush and rolling dirt and stone mounds, brought back memories of the Tehachapis in California on Route 58, right before you reached the Mojave. The otherwise pristine mountains which lined our valley were oddly at times chunked out, as if someone had taken a huge spoon and dug into a big mound of coffee ice cream. Perhaps that was to gather needed building material for the buildings of Damascus, or perhaps to provide the roadbed the very highway we were traveling on at that moment. As the sun brought more light to the blue sky, I caught sight of misty cloud fingers wafting over the tops, snaking down the slopes and providing alluring eye candy for my anticipatory mind.

Someone had told us that camels would be prevalent as we got closer to Palmyra, but it was apparent early on that the true ship of the desert these days was the two-wheeled motorcycle. Even the Beduoin tribes we passed, otherwise nomadic in their ways, seemed to have one or two vehicles handy just in case they needed to make a quick trip into the suburban sphere of the state.

As the landscape grew more sparse, our driver turned on the radio - Palmyra was still a couple hours away. Perhaps acknowledging his Western world contingent, the driver fiddled with the dial and soon we were listening to songs that we might hear back home during our commutes, or maybe populating our iPods.

Even the deejay spoke in English and Arabic - from what I could make out, we were hearing a station out of Aleppo, which didn't seem to make sense distance-wise, but I figured if I got out here in the first place, anything was possible.

Soon, the familiar strains of a Bee Gees tune came on the air. Maybe it was the novelty of hearing 1970s disco in the middle of the Syrian desert, but our still sleepy contingent perked up and tuned in.

And then came the chorus we all knew well, and we all became backup singers.

"More than a woman...more than a woman to me."
"More than a woman...you are, more than a woman to me."

Laughter broke out amongst us all. The driver turned back to us briefly and joined us in our chuckling.

Shortly afterward, many of us drifted back into napland. But for a brief moment, Barry, Robin, Maurice, and a bunch of Westerners far away from home serenaded the mountains of Ajjibal Attadmuriyeh.


Drummer Man

It was the Bicentennial year, and patriotic images transitioned within my fuzzy mind. The Declaration Of Independence. Paul Revere. George Washington. Mount Rushmore.

The scent of Gordon’s...yes, very familiar to me...permeated the final image, and the bright light made me squint. Those four faces stared with curiosity. Concern. They looked youthful.

“Are you okay mister?”

They hovered around me, like pigeons awaiting for stale bread to drop underneath the 480 freeway along the side of the bay. Wide-eyed. Peering. They asked questions amongst each other.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Should we tell the teacher?”

“He might be a wino, you know.”

“What’s a wino?”

My hand tried reaching forward, but merely dropped to the cold concrete floor below. A uniformed female face, with that same curious concern, mumbling for me to enjoy my time at the zoo...I tried reaching for my right-side coat pocket.

A metallic clink, and then the pressure of a butterfly upon my chest. I glanced downward; it looked like one of those newfangled quarters, with a nattily dressed drummer beating out a determined march. There was nothing like that to greet me several years ago, not that it would’ve made a difference, or perhaps...

“I don’t know, do you think that will be enough?”

“Yeah, I think so. Besides, I want one of those chocolate malts. The cart said fifty cents.”

“Yeah, malts! Let’s go back. Teach' is probably looking for us now.”

And then, Mount Rushmore was gone. Well, one face lingered. He looked Asian, though not Vietnamese; he was not threatening. He stared. Concerned. Curious. Perhaps a little scared.

I would’ve tried to reassure him, if I could. There was a time I could. But now, I needed to fade back to the darkness.