Sunday, November 01, 2020

Pipe Pouch

This is one of my favorite things. It’s a pipe pouch made of deerskin. It has a slot along the top for storing pipe cleaners, a little pouch on the inside for my pipe tools and lighter, and a nifty string that goes around it to wrap it up tight. It also has a stain on the front flap so I can “tell people you stole it off a dead cowboy.”

That’s from the homeless guy who made it for me.

I met him in the courtyard of a coffee shop on the corner of a busy-ish street in downtown Cape Girardeau. It was the summer of 2016. I stopped in for a latte and to gather my nerves. He was sitting at one of the tables outside with a whole manner of crafty shit spread out in front of him. He told me how he wouldn’t sell any of his bow and arrow sets until he had shot the bow 70 times. He told me how he made and then broke in the moccasins he was selling to passers-by.

I visited at that shop a few more times that summer and I was always glad when he was there. We talked about politics, religion, sex, and all the other stuff you’re not supposed to talk about in casual company. Meanwhile, his dog, a lab named Ginger, would dash around and harass the other customers. They didn’t mind, she was a sweet dog who just wanted to say hi. Nevertheless, our conversations were constantly interrupted with him yelling, “Ginger, get over here! Leave that lady alone.”

Maybe the third time we met, and after watching him make moccasin after moccasin, I told him that my pipe case had recently fallen apart and maybe he could make me a new one. He was all over it.

A few days later he had it done. It was perfect.

We continued to get together. He told me about the time he got a bad cut on his leg on the road in Wichita. It went septic and he had to spend time in the hospital, which he hated. I told him about my recent divorce and my plans for the future. All the while he was yelling at his dog - “Ginger, stop that!” - and stitching leather.

He drifted away at the end of the summer.

A month later I met a ginger with a bunch of dogs, one of which was named Ginger. We got married the next year.

Anyway, this pipe pouch is one of my favorite things.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Teddy Bear

I like to give people rides. If I see someone hoofing it and the stars are aligned I’ll pull over and offer them a lift. It’s a good way to meet some interesting people.

The last time was a couple of days ago, December 26, Boxing Day, to be exact. I really don’t know what Boxing Day is, exactly, I just know it’s a thing in some English speaking countries.

Anyway, because of the holidays I got off work earlier than expected. It was mid-afternoon and there was a heavy fog nestled on Kansas City. I took a meandering route home, stopping occasionally to take pictures.

Once I’d had enough and just wanted to get home I pointed my car north - couch-ward. I was in a part of town that I didn’t know well. I saw a women loaded down with backpacks, bags, and satchels. I noticed a long loaf of bread poking out of one of her bags. This is a woman who’s been shopping and, for whatever reason, is having to walk home on a chilly, damp day. This is a person to whom I should give a ride, I told myself.

Her story was different.

“Do you want a ride?”

“Oh, yes, sir!”

There was no hesitation. No, ‘Are you sure?’ Just ‘Hells yah!'

She danced around to the passenger side and, without adjusting any of her ponderous baggage, dropped herself into the seat. Face-forward, she didn’t say anything as if I knew where she needed to go. I drove in the general direction she had been walking until the first stop sign.

“Which way?”

Meanwhile my phone’s GPS was barking rerouting instructions. It was muffled and frantic under the pile of stuff I’d chucked in the back seat in order to give her room.


“Oh, my name is Bryce, by the way.”

We shook hands. Silence.

“And, what’s your name?”

“I don’t remember.”

It’s wasn’t bread in her bag. It was a teddy bear. I realized she wasn’t bringing shopping home. This was everything she owned. She didn’t shift her bags when she sat down because they are always on her. She wears them like clothing.

Her face was mottled and weathered. She was young, probably early thirties, but she’d been living hard for a long time.

“Do you want some water?”


“I have some food. I have a peanut butter and jelly if you’d like.”

“No. Do you have any drugs?”

“Sorry, no.”

“Any pot?”

Isn’t pot a drug?

“No, sorry, I don’t have anything like that.”

“Oh. Left.”

We took three lefts. I wondered if she was leading me into some kind of ambush. Just for a moment. Of course she wasn’t. What would be the plan there? Wander the streets with all your possessions on your back until some naive dude picks you up then steal, what, his driver’s license?

Finally, she said turn right. I said I can’t, it’s one way the other way.

“It’s just a sign.”

I looked around. This was an empty part of the city. The few houses were boarded up, crumbling. The right turn led us to a T intersection. Straight ahead was a path leading into a wooded area. The path was littered with moldy clothing, an abandoned shopping cart, trash’ve seen it.

“This is it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. My partner is in there. Come with me. We’ll party. He wants to meet you. He talks better than me.”

“Oh, thanks. I can’t. I need to get home.”

I regretted saying the H-word immediately.

“Yeah, come on. He can tell you.”

“Isn’t there somewhere else I can take you? Do you know somewhere warm?”

“No, I’m safe here.”

She asked me where I lived. I gave her a vague description of the house that Sara and I are renting. She asked about Sara and, again, invited us to stop by to party.

Playing with the buttons on the radio she asked how much I paid for the car. I told her. She said it’s nice. It’s warm. I let her sit for a while. I held her hand for a little bit. She looked like someone who needed to be touched.

I hope it helped.

She broke my heart. She was clearly confused, probably drug addled. I told her to please stay warm. I only had three dollars on me, which I gave her along with a lighter. She was far more grateful for the lighter.

I watched her walk up the path to whatever it is that is her place. She disappeared into the trees.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Second Hand Therapy

 I need a teapot.

Please don't get too invested in that idea. You will be disappointed.

Still, I need a teapot. Two weeks ago I had a very nice teapot. Well, I had a teapot that fit my very specific requirements. I like whistlers. Don't judge me I just like it when they whistle. I also want a kettle with a lid, which can be a problem. A lot of whistlers on the market these days only have the neck with a tight-fitted cap which facilitates the whistling. The combination of a wide, equally tight-fitted lid and a whistling neck isn't always the easiest thing to find.

But, like I said, up until two weeks ago, I had one of those. It took me a few years to find it. Besides those specifications, it had to have the right look. Simple, clean, classic – it can be a troublesome equation and I'd solved it. Then, my wife, my love and companion of +20 years asked me to move out and, as is her nature, very efficiently organized our divorce.

I take kitchens very seriously. I'll drive a POS vehicle for years and never give it another thought but if a kitchen I'm associated with is out of order in any way, I will not rest until the problem is rectified. So, in packing up my belongings, I could not bring myself to remove the perfect kettle that I'd found for that kitchen, even if it left me without one.

Which brings us back to the frustrating truth that I need a teapot.

This afternoon I stopped in on a local 2nd hand shop to find my teapot. In the meantime, my friend, Beth, was asking me to explain fractions to her. (We can talk about my choice of friends later.) I think I helped but, whether I did or not, I entertained myself by sending her some silly pictures of the stuff I found in the shop. I found a rack stuffed with bad ties and snapped a picture with the caption: All The Ties! There was a basket full of thin vases for $5. My caption for this was: I was hoping for a bag of dicks but a basket of vases will probably work.

I'm clever. My friends are lucky to have me.

There is an extensive collection of old, classy clothes in one section of this shop. I'm not what one would call a classy dresser but I like to slow down and admire the racks when I'm there. There's a wall there with nothing but ladies' hats. It's really stunning. I texted: All The Hats and lifted my phone to get the best angle to capture the amazing array of hats.

Just as I was just about to snap the picture...

Wait, first this. Among the beautiful, generations removed clothing and accessories I spotted the piece I would have to have. It's a heavy, cotton weave messenger bag. It's 70 years old if it's a day. It's busted to hell, worn and shredded on every corner. Still it's well made and despite it's state, there isn't a hole or flaw in it that would challenge it's functionality. As I admired it, I felt something in a side pocket. I stuck a finger in and pulled out a buckeye. How do I not buy that right then, right there?

Well, because my cash on hand was a dollar short, that's how.

Oh, well, I thought, maybe I'll come back later and grab it. Then I saw the hats...

I was ready to snap the picture when, from around the far corner, stepped a woman. At first, I truly believed that I was seeing one of the comically comely mannequins that the proprietors like to scatter throughout the shop. She was slender yet shapely and wore a snug, silk dress that would have been the jewel of the classic, outdated collection in this shop. It was tan, the color of stained pine, with a floral print in reds and greens, slightly and beautifully faded with age.

She was younger than me but I won't venture a guess how much. She had a beautiful smile and so happy eyes. Her skin was the blackest of black, gorgeously threatening to make the exquisite silk dress seem drab.

I never got that perfectly framed picture of the wall of hats.

Instead, after seeing my fellow shopper, I fumbled my phone/camera. It shlooped out of my grasp like a bar of soap. I juggled it for a few moments and finally lost the game as it clattered and broke open in a box of old post cards. The woman glanced at my antics and smiled as I tried to make a joke while gathering the pieces.

Pulling myself together as best I could, I headed for the nearest exit.

After driving a few blocks, I decided two things. First, I must have the buckeye bag. Second, I must offer to make dinner for my new beauty. Never mind, that I'm floppy, grey-haired old white dude with a scruffy beard and inability to speak to humans. It was just the necessary thing.

I found an ATM so I covered the cost of the bag which, I'm pleased to report, is now mine. After buying it, I found her and showed it to her. I showed her how it is so busted and told her how I like that. Then I showed her the buckeye. She didn't understand the significance but was engaged and listened as I told her about it. Then, I told her that I would like to make dinner for her. She was very nice and wisely declined with, “I doubt my boyfriend would appreciate that.”

I laughed – not nervously – and said, “Yeah, I suppose not.”

She smiled, warmly, and told me she appreciated the offer, even adding that it was flattering.

Who knows if there's a boyfriend. It doesn't matter. There's not a version of that scenario where she accepts. There are hundreds of versions of that scenario where I don't ask the breathtaking woman in front of me to spend some time. I rejected them and at no stage of the process did I lose my mind to dumb fright.

I've known my wife since I was 20; we've been together almost as long. To repurpose a line I think I heard in some TV dramedy, we had 21 amazing years in a nearly perfect relationship and then a year and a half suffering through hell together.

At 43 I'm back to single and I wasn't sure how I'd handle it. Thanks to some second hand therapy today, I think I might be okay.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Turn Signals or The Increasing Entropy of Common Human Relations

Turn signals are great. They’re so simple. They explain so much while being the easiest thing to understand. There’s no written language to understand to understand a turn signal. They communicate a pure, often important message to others. There is no nuance to a turn signal and the information delivered by a turn signal is only ever beneficial to everyone involved.

Most people who know me in real life consider me to be quiet, introverted, thoughtful and, overall, a bit of an asshole. That’s all probably pretty accurate but mostly because there aren’t turn signals. Human interaction is incredibly complex and I get it wrong almost every time. It would be so much better if motivations, needs and desires could be communicated in the same purely binary principles of the turn signal. Instead, we’re meant to receive a raft of spoken and unspoken information to understand each other.

Eye movement, posture, facial expression, hand gestures, personal space, tone of voice, verbal infliction and a whole mess of other subtle and not so subtle clues are continuously being delivered in even the simplest of conversations. Heap on top of that individual, familial and cultural differences mean that nobody is working with the same unspoken vocabulary. The whole thing is further complicated by the fact that spoken words, meant to be the most explicit form of communication, rely on living and therefore always evolving languages. None of it - definitions, word order, sentence structure, etc. - is static.

I just want to know if you’re turning left or right but somehow we’re involved in a heated conversation about the pros and cons of tapioca pudding. Is it any wonder I spend most conversations watching and listening? Receiving, interpreting and filing the information that I think is being delivered is often overwhelming. Then developing and delivering a clear response makes a complex situation nearly impossible. Is it any wonder that I spend most of my time actively avoiding conversations?

There aren’t many people I would count as close. There are a lot of people I like and, not always concurrently, admire. There are far fewer with whom I feel capable of communicating. I think those unfortunate few probably to find me exhausting.

Despite appearances, I do crave human interaction as much as anyone else. When I think I’ve found it, I quickly overload my new victim. Making matters worse is the fact that I’m almost always wrong. I haven’t established successful interaction. More often I’ve found someone who, for whatever reason, finds it in their interest to try to exchange ideas with me. I find myself in situations where I think I’m building a friendship or affection where the other person might simply fulfilling a specific need. Once done, I’m left wondering what happened to my new buddy.

I’m not saying I’m a victim or this is a situation unique to me. I imagine this is a universal experience and I’ve probably been on the other side of that situation quite a few times. I do think I’m less aware of it than most. Human relations are always a negotiation and most people understand that instinctually. I find I don’t and I have to stop and make myself understand that what I think is a fast, new friendship was, actually, a transaction.

Whenever I really put my mind to these matters, I almost always decide that I have Asperger syndrome. If I do, I’m on the functional end and there’s probably not a lot of benefit in knowing. Fortunately, I do have a few people in life and they’ll have to do.

I just wish the rest of you assholes would wear turn signals.