I have recently watched two good movies about Christopher Robin of Winnie the Pooh fame. Both were about the loss of wonder, time, and innocence and a need to find them again. And it reminded me that although not as bucolic as Christopher Robin’s woods I had my own 100 acre wood growing up in a small town. My 100 acre woods was in Boaz, Alabama; it consisted of a vacant lot next door with weeds three foot high. A drainage creek behind the house. A bridge across the creek that led to a big backyard that while mowed did not have an obvious owner. A huge maple tree in the front yard. The big pipes the creek flowed through that went under the road that led to the other side of the road I was not to cross. The store at the end of the block. Football field across the street.
In the middle of the weeded lot my friend and I had dug a hole that literally was neck deep and wide enough to hold four people. It was our fort. When we first started digging we did think we might hit China but eventually we decided it must be further down than we knew. When we were in our fort (or as some might call it: hole) we could not be seen by anyone. Although there were a few trails through the weeds, we were pretty much the only ones who would bother to go into the three foot high weeds. Our parents would stand at the edge of the lot and yell it was supper time but they would never venture in to the weeds.
Our favorite exit from the weeded lot was a path we had created next to the drainage ditch or creek as we called it. When the water was shallow we could walk on the slope that led down to the water. This enabled us to not be viewed. We could hide from friends and families for hours without anyone knowing how close we were to them. After you came to the end of the path you would have my backyard which I thought was huge. In our backyard we had a basketball goal and a slab of pavement to play. Our dog was usually tied to a long chain next to his doghouse. And there was the old truck that was one day going to be repaired. This was the part of the 100 acre woods where if we were not quick or lingered we could be spotted and the demands of chores would come crushing forth. But if we hurried past and went back into the ditch three houses down was the bridge to cross the creek. Once you cross the creek we were in a neighbor’s backyard but they had subdivided their yard with a fence leaving an area that no one used where we could set up camp where we were almost invisible.
Because the bridge was not known, we could avoid even friends who knew of our fort and paths in the weeds. We became experts in stealth. On days we were more adventuresome we could go in the opposite direction from the house. The weeds would carry you all the way to the street we were not supposed to cross because it was ‘busy’. Two cars passed every half hour. But we did not have to cross the road because the creek had huge drainage pipes we could crawl or walk under the road. The only problem was we never knew if we would encounter a rat, raccoon, or dog. On occasion we were stuck on the wrong side of the street and needed to be home but our path was blocked by a territorial animal who thought we had no business in their cave. This led to us arming ourselves with sticks and stones and rushing at the animals but on two occasions the animals did not run but held their ground and we had to retreat. One time a dog charged us and we found out quickly that although we were loyal friends there were times when it was every boy for himself.
It was with fear and trembling that we would cross the forbidden road rather than go back through the cave. We knew if a grown-up or other family member saw us we were doomed. The caves were saved for exceptionally boring days.
There were two other parts of the woods. There was the huge maple tree that stood in the front of our house. It was an extension of the woods. I climbed high into the tree seeing the whole of my domain. But here you constantly were obliged to interact with family and friends as they passed. The other extension was the store at the end of our street. It was there we kept up our supply of baseball cards, army men, balls, and ice cream. To be granted the right and money to cross the road and buy anything we wanted was the thrill of a lifetime.
I sometimes dream of my 100 acre wood. Always upon waking I feel a joy. It was a mysterious time full of wonders. It was a break before the onset of responsibility and young adulthood. I know people say I still stay in the weeds and never come out. They also say that I can make drainage ditches into creeks. And some say that I like keeping out of sight too much. But no matter what may be said, that place that time shaped me.
I have not been feeling well since the great swelling of face incident (see blog entry 2-10-2018) so the doctor is running tests of all kinds to find the ailment to address. So first up was allergy tests in four basic allergy groups. Of these groups they would test for 39 items in these groups. So first they prick with a needle with elements from each of the four groups to see which groups you are impacted by. I had the pleasure of being impacted with all four groups. Thus I had 39 needle pricks to endure. During this time the first nurse I had contact with comes in the room and looks at the thirty nine pricks on my arm and goes oh my with big eyes. Yes as usual I tested near perfect with 38 of the 39 being positive.
The message to me is I am allergic to the world. The nurse tells me I can be impacted by these allergens if I am within twenty miles of them. I am allergic to dogs, cats, and horses. And the one I would never have guessed oak trees. I scrunched up my nose and said, ‘How am I going to find twenty degrees of separation from an oak tree in Savannah? Am I never to see the outside again?’. She shrugged and did not answer.
They have declared the world a threat to me. Which I knew. The world is dangerous; Donald Trump is president after all. But no that is not what they mean. I am to believe Trump is not a threat but oak trees are. I beg to differ.
Next up is sleep apnea tests. Let me describe how they set up the sleeping tests. First they apply electrodes to your head, chest, arms, legs, and all over your face. You have dozens of wires connected to you. Basically the test is how many electrodes can you place on one human being. They also have chest and waist belts to hold the wires together of the connected electrodes. But of course they start with telling you to walk down long abandoned halls. Until you come to a place you have never been before in a room moved far away from anyone and sleep. And yes there will be a stranger there watching you as you sleep. And yes he is in control of all the electrodes connected to your body. This procedure could not have been better designed than a Wes Craven horror movie. Sleep tight and the bed bugs biting will be the least of your problems
I have not been assigned treatment for the apneas yet. I hear it may involve slicing my throat and placing a mask on my face. This is not a joke, it is a real possibility they have suggested. They have also suggested I have a deviated septum. I will have them know my septum is not the only deviated part of me. My mind is full of all sorts of deviant thoughts especially after my apnea and allergy tests. Maybe like cancer my deviated septum has spread to my mind.
So what does this all mean to me. I am determined to stay in this world but only as a hermit in a hermetically sealed room with rubber walls. So if in the future you wonder ‘Where has Michael gotten himself off to?’ Just know I have gone away that I may prepare a room for you.
I sometimes revert to my Seminary self and write stories of John the Baptist and Jesus growing up together. Afterall they were cousins and we have little of their stories before they are grown men.
The summer had been a long hot one. John and Jesus had played, worked, prayed, argued, and stayed in each other’s company for most of it. Elizabeth and Zechariah had felt John would do well to spend time in the country. He was becoming a leader already and he was too young for that. Besides Jesus could use some help running his father’s carpentry shop. It was Sabbath and they were returning from a most uneventful synagogue service. They were grateful to be out in the open air sitting in a shade tree next to a small creek. Occasionally they would skip rocks but mostly they lounged in the shade.
“John, I am no good at being religious. I am too poor to buy myself into spiritual respectability. My heart is not in the ceremonial laws of washing and cleansing. The only reason I do them is the hassle I would receive if I did not. I appreciate the laws that are about interactions with others and the world but the rest of it does not mean much.” John laughed,” Now you know Jesus my father is a Levite. I have been trained all my life to be a priest and here you go making light of it”
‘No John. I would never make fun of our religion.’ Jesus said with shocked dismay.’ You are such a devotee to our faith. You never roll your eyes at the rabbis or say they are full of camel dung. Not you John you take it hook, line, and sinker. Why they even call you John the Devout” They laugh.
Jesus in a more solemn voice announced, ” The most religious person I ever met was a prostitute.” John gasped,” Now I know people who claim they have glory hallelujah moments when they visit prostitutes but I have never heard anyone say they are the righteous of Israel. You need to explain yourself brother.”
Jesus paused and began with a serious tone, ” You remember when I was sixteen and my father died? It really hurt inside. there wasn’t a better man than him. You know people are always calling me the bastard of Nazareth, that didn’t matter because Joseph was always there and such a good father to me. The day I found him in the carpenter’s shop about where you are he was slumped over his work table. I held him in my arms for at least an hour crying before I told anyone I had found him dead. When word got out that my father died, the professional mourners came but when they realized we could not pay they soon left. A priest came but when he realized I had touched a dead body and had not made myself ceremoniously clean he refused to talk to me. I needed a word from that priest but he was more concerned about ceremony than the hurting child I was. I could not take it anymore.
Mary was sad but her friends had gathered around her to support her. I was now the man of the house; I needed to act it. Yet I felt like a child. I wanted air to breathe to be away from all of this death. I left the house and I wandered aimlessly through Nazareth. I searched for something or someone to console me until I was exhausted. Tired I flopped on the ground and cried in the middle of Nazareth. People passed me and stared but did not stop. Finally, a good neighbor woman sat down beside me and asked if she could help. When I looked up I saw someone whom everyone proclaimed a prostitute.
We sat there for maybe ten minutes before I started talking. I told her of my father, the mourners, the priest, the bastard of Nazareth (which she told me was mild to what she had been called). We laughed. A part of me said I should not be speaking to this woman because of her reputation but she was being kind when no one else was. She did not care I had no money or was unclean. She saw a hurting boy and she held him in her arms. She held me by the face and said, ”Tell the priest to go to hell. I tell you he has spent many an unclean night with me. He cannot counsel you about life because from what I know he is pretty lifeless in the netherworld. Honey I know how it is to be dead and how it is to be alive. I know when you feel dead inside you need someone to wrap their arms around you and whisper sweet nothings in your ear. But I have also found if you go home, lock yourself in a room with God sometimes God speaks. God will hold your deadness and your good father will hold you tight in his arms for good people always are there in the shadows holding us in our time of need. Your relationship will be different with your father but not lost.’
So that is what I did, John. I locked myself in my room and cried all night until I passed out. When I woke up I do not know how to explain it but I realized I had a new father and he would never be taken away from me. That was the day I realized all our ceremonies, our right words, our right theology, our rightness did not matter. If our rightness prevents us from holding people in need in our arms our religion is dead.”
A silence followed. John finally broke the silence,’ I agree but I still am not going to hug you,” he said as he slapped Jesus hard on the back. ‘Now come along Mr. Morose and see if you can beat my ten skips across the pond.’ “It was eight,” Jesus replied. “What a shame you seem to have so much soul and yet you cannot count.” They ran to the lake and skipped stones across the lake but they knew their faith was changing them in ways that left them fearful and hopeful.
I love to play cards. But I also love to cheat at cards. This can be a problem sometimes with the other players. I love to talk smack when I play cards. If I try hard I can even count the cards. All of this can make for a hilarious game or frustrated players. While I do not like to lose I can usually take it with a smile because it happens so seldom.
My cheating is so obvious that I cannot believe people do not catch me. They may suspect but they seldom unless I want them to catch me in the act. It is also because people tend to trust me and think I am fair. Which of course I am except occasionally in card games. I also bluff cheat. This is when I say I am cheating but really am not. I do this usually when I know I am due a good hand. So the odds play in my favor and I have a good hand and even though the other players have been watching me like a shark I win the hand easily. Which then makes my opponents think I have some supernatural powers of cheating. The only problem is every good hand you are dealt they think you have cheated.
My cheating style is simple if you do not cut the deck and even the edges I know where the cards I placed on the bottom are. Of course I can also guesstimate with surprising results where they are by how many cards you pick up to cut the deck. So if I am playing Rook a card game with a widow. I place all the cards in the widow and know I can bet the widow.
Now I often tell my opponents that the cards are marked when they are not and they become upset when they cannot see the marked cards and I can. Of course the cards are not marked. I just place the “marked” card fifth or so from the top of the deck when they are not paying attention and say its marked. I then proceed to say see the markings on the card. They look fervently and find nothing but before turning it over I name the card. They take the card in their hand and continue to look sometimes finding unique markings that are not there.
My family are convinced I have powers way beyond my capabilities in cheating. When returning my cards to the dealer I will palm a high card. I will then hold my palms up revealing the card but often they will not see it. Or they will see it and proceed to make me stand up and roll up my sleeves in case I have hidden other cards. But this convinces them I am a card shark and a half.
My father was the worst card player ever. He enjoyed the conversation of cards more than paying any attention to what was played. Therefore he ended up making the worst plays possible. My wife plays to help the esteem of the girls. She seems to think our girls have very fragile egos because her plays always help them win.
When they get frustrated at my shenanigans they all gang (even my partner) up on me to ensure I lose. Then I play my repentant sad sack card and eventually they relent and stop. Of course after they relent that is when I cheat. They need to know it is a cruel world out there and do not trust anyone.
Why do I cheat? It started with my Mom. Who was a very good card player but not very observant. I had two friends who I played cards with all the time. After our Saturday night shenanigans we always met at my house to play cards into the wee hours of the morning. But being only three we needed a fourth player sometimes we would have another friend come but most of the time we woke up my Mom and she played with us. After a game or two of playing normal we then proceeded to cheat boldly. It was the three of us against the unwise mother. Even her partner cheated with us. But the object would be to cheat obviously and see how far we could go before she got a clue.
This would lead to some hilarious coughing spells where someone would practically fall out of their chairs and pick up the cards they laid on the floor. We were a generous bunch always getting each other a drink. We would then before we went into the kitchen over my Mom’s head show our hands in Vanna White style while we engaged my Mom in conversation. She never became suspicious even when we never came back with what we went for. In fact we would send another player to retrieve the forgotten snack or drink and they would repeat the pattern. Our conversations would run like this. Terry you are the ace of spades when it comes to dancing your moves are so fine. Mike, Sally your queen stole your heart didn’t she? Another method we would use was to have two decks of the same kind. We would often play the ace of spades twice (one from the other deck). When she would say I thought the ace of spades had already been played we all with our most innocent expressions would say no it has not. This usually sufficed but occasionally she would challenge and we would turn over the cards that had already been played and two ace of spades would not be found because we had returned one to the second deck.
You see my Mom provided me with positive feedback on my cheating. She made it fun. Not once did I ever face the consequences of my cheating. Her laxity was my downfall. So today with abandonment I cheat. My friends and I have long since lost contact with each other. Some say that is just the nature of life sometimes friends come and go. But my guess is how could we continue the friendships when there is no way I could trust those cheaters. Why they would even cheat my saintly mother.