Untotaled: Stepping 64 (December 25th, 1970) You’ll … April 25, 2015

  Jonathots Daily Blog

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(Transcript)

A worthless, no-count, lazy, trifling, silly, mooching dead-beat.

That was the image of me in my community at Christmas-time in 1970.

I had no job.

Worse, I didn’t want a job.

I was just turning 19 years of age, and even though I’d been forced by my own actions into adult life, I was not a grown-up.

I wasn’t lazy in the sense of being unwilling to perform physical tasks. Dollie and I walked all over town looking for loose change in the dirt and offering to perform odd jobs to earn a few quarters and dollars. Most of the time, this was the way we bought our bologna and bread.

We were living in my mother’s house and she was certainly growing weary of our presence, which was also aggravated by people continuously telling her that we were taking advantage of the charity.

So when our first Christmas rolled around, I had been able to squirrel away $2, which Dollie was unaware we possessed. I did not know what to buy her for Christmas.

Then a lightbulb went off in my head. She loved Dr. Pepper. We didn’t purchase it very often–too expensive for our budget.

So I took my $2 and went out and bought a 6-bottle carton of the delicious fluid, wrapped one bottle up in Christmas paper and placed the other 5 under the tree on Christmas Eve. I was hoping it would be a delightful surprise.

But on Christmas morning when she opened up the bottle, I could tell she was greatly disappointed. Even the offering of the 5 additional Dr. Peppers did not seem to increase her joy.

Matter of fact, we spent most of that Christmas talking, discussing and finally arguing about our situation.

It was the Yuletide Season, but for me it was a memory of hearing:

  • You’ll never amount to anything.
  • You’ll end up in jail
  • You’ll be heading for the streets
  • You’ll be a thief
  • You’ll be a disgrace to your family

And worst of all:

  • You’ll be a husband who couldn’t even give his young wife anything but a bottle of pop for Christmas.

 

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Chair Person… November 6, 2012

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Here’s how it works.

With the present condition of my lower limbs, I basically divide my life into two segments. For short efforts, jaunts or tiny toddles, I get up on my pins and hobble along, trying to maintain as much of a stride as humanly possible, to exercise those muscles and let those joints know that we haven’t settled next to a pool in Boca Raton. For longer distances, shopping excursions and moments when I am not sure where I’m heading, I opt for the wheelchair. It’s a pretty good system–especially when you consider that it’s the only one available.

So last night when Janet and I took the stage and I rolled up to the front to our set, I discovered there was a dear lady also in a wheel chair, sitting close to where I would dismount from mine, to assume the piano bench. So I rolled up next to her–similar to being in a gridlock on a San Francisco freeway–and we had a moment of delightful eye contact. Then I eased out of the chair and onto my musical perch. She was not more than four feet away from me.

She was a chair person.

It’s a title we normally grant to someone in charge of a meeting, so that is why it’s so applicable, because this dear soul was in charge. All through the presentation, she whispered her approval, appreciation, encouragement, joy and admiration. I think some of her friends and other members of the audience privately desired that she remain a little more quiet. (*Isn’t it interesting that “normal” people always want to stifle what they consider to be extreme outbursts of praise? It happened at the triumphal entry of Jesus and it occurs every day when we all become more concerned about being “civilized” than appreciative.)

There are seven steps involved in being successful at what I do. I honestly don’t think this would be much different in any occupation, but I could be wrong, as I often am just to confirm my status in the great race.

The first step is always overcoming disappointment. After all these years of travel and experience, conventional wisdom might say that I should be performing to packed houses. They rarely are. I normally receive a congregation that consists of the chosen few minus those who have previous plans or a great excuse for absence. It doesn’t bother me. It really doesn’t. Usually it is of more concern to the sponsor, who is horrified that his or her efforts rendered such a trickle. We have to be careful about disappointment–it often can be arrogance wearing a mask of piety.

The second step, for me, is being grateful for each and every face that has come out to beam in my presence. Many of them don’t smile at first because it is too heavy a commitment. I am patient.I can’t expect them to grin at me in approval simply based on my comely features.

Which leads me to the third step, which is finding a door. Yes, all of us human beings have a door–and it’s somewhere near our hearts. Trying to communicate to human beings on a spiritual level is comical. They are preconditioned to throw their religious attitudes your way and block any attempts at revision. Coming at them from a mental angle can be baffling, both to me and to them. I talk about human things in a human way to human beings seeking out human answers. It’s a great door.

And when I finally find that door, I get to my fourth step–I always try to enter with love. God does not give me permission to be a grouchy, fussy bigot to His children. If I can’t encourage, edify and exhort people, my best profile is to shut the hell up. I try to find a way to love everybody in the room. (It’s made so much easier when I have my fellow-chair-person not four feet away from me, leading the charge for acceptance and inclusion. She was precious.)

After I enter with love, the fifth step is to be patient and wait for those who are drawn to me and feel they might benefit by rubbing up against my spirit. There is nothing more intrusive than insisting that you’re right and deciding for other people that they need what you’ve got. They will find you. It’s why you must let some people leave your presence hurriedly–almost rudely–because there is absolutely nothing you can do for them right now.

And when these souls DO show up at my table, my sixth step is to listen. My dear God, they were courteous enough to open their ears for me for an hour–it won’t hurt me to give them sixty seconds or so. After the show, my dear lady who created her own front row of observance came to the table and we chatted for quite a while. Her life has not been easy. The wheel chair is just an outward sign of a life that has been crippled by difficulty. But she was hopeful. She was joyous. She had a great sense of humor. And she even boldly piped up at one point that she thought one of the best things in life was enjoying a Miller Highlife with a bologna sandwich. This might have embarrassed some overhearers, who thought it inappropriate to say such words in God’s house, but since Jesus turned water into wine, I think she was on safe turf. Yes, the sixth step is to listen.

Do I always like what I hear? Of course not. But God hasn’t made me a judge. It isn’t my job to decide who makes it into the camp and who ends up sleeping in the woods. I’ll leave that to the Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Don’t ever forget–if you think one group of people is smarter and better than another, you’re just a bigot. You may be a well-educated one, but it doesn’t mean you’re any prettier.

Finally, the seventh step in my journey on any given night is to leave humbly. For naked I came into this world and in a similar unclothed fashion I will depart. My strength is not in my talent or my spirituality, but rather, in my humanity.

I am a chair person.

Right now I am rolled in, to roll out what I have. Last night I met another chair person. She lives that way all the time and still loves being alive.

I can recommend this seven-step process. Shall we review?

  • Step One: overcome disappointment.
  • Step Two: Be grateful for what is set before you.
  • Step Three: Find a door.
  • Step Four: Enter with love.
  • Step Five: Wait for those who are drawn to you.
  • Step Six: Listen to them.
  • Step Seven: Leave humbly.

Much thanks to the folks in Brookville, Ohio. Much appreciation to my fellow chair person. She confirms that the seat of power is not in how we stand, but rather … in what we feel.

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Crueler Donuts… May 18, 2012

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Once upon a time, for a brief fourteen seconds, I nearly convinced myself that I didn’t really like sweet things. During the sharing of such a fable, I even espoused some disdain for desserts. I said I preferred meats, vegetables and fruits over sugar-laden snacks, pies and cakes. In the midst of the relating this fairy tale, somebody walked through the room carrying a platter stacked with donuts. It was like the wicked queen displaying the magical poison apple to Snow White. My devotion to meat and vegetables was gone—my intent devoid, as I reached over with trembling hand and seized one of the lovely, circular specimens and stuffed it in my mouth.

Over the years I’ve had a great love affair with donuts, which I have, so to speak, tried to keep undercover. Because there is nothing worse than watching a really fat person eat desserts. Everybody just nods their heads and goes, “Oh, I see how it happened …”

But donuts are tough. (Or is it moist?)

I think my love affair with donuts began back in 1971, when for a brief time, I was homeless. Well, that’s a little too dramatic. I wasn’t living under a bridge using newspapers for blankets, but my wife and I didn’t have enough money for gas, food and lodging, so lodging ended up taking a back seat, and in our youthful optimism, we sponged off our friends for a spare couch or space on a patio for sleeping purposes. As you probably realize, one wears out one’s welcome quickly with such presumptions. So eventually we ran out of friends willing to lodge us for the night, and others we contacted had been fully warned of our mooching activities.

One alternative remained. (You would probably insist there was another alternative, called going out and getting a job, but honestly, that did not even enter our adolescent mindset—to pursue such an obtuse process.)

So the alternative we found was to borrow my mother’s key to the loan company that she managed, make a copy and quietly slip into the back room well after dark, sleeping on the floor of the establishment. We had to make sure that we didn’t go in until the rest of the town had gone to bed, and be out before dawn.

We had a morning ritual where we drove in our beat-up van down to North Columbus to a donut shop run by one of my dear friends who had not yet figured out that he would be better off free of our companionship. It was his job, as manager of the donut shop, to throw away all the donuts from the previous evening at about six-thirty each morning. He explained that if we would be there before the trays were dumped into the trash, that we could have as many of the rejected sugar treats as our hearts desired.

We never missed a morning.

It became one of the staples of our diet. We would usually get a couple dozen of those free blessings, buy a loaf of bread, a pound of bologna, a half-gallon of milk and two oranges. Allotting for the fact that we didn’t have to pay for the donuts, the whole day’s food expense was less than four dollars. It seemed to be an ingenious system.

(After a while, we did notice that we were gaining weight. In a state of denial, we assumed it must be the oranges, so we stopped buying them. But it was not until we got caught being squatters in the back of the loan office that we finally stopped making the trek down to get our donut bonanza, and mysteriously, after that, stopped gaining weight and actually lost a little.)

But it was through that experience that I learned to love donuts—so much so, that now, I never eat them at all—because if I did, I would have no idea when to stop.

I used to have favorites, but after a while that seemed like a waste of time and created forbidden territory that was neither satisfying nor particularly intelligent. One of the donuts I never really enjoyed was crullers. In my obese piety, I held that they were “too heavy” and more like cake than a real donut. But that particular abstention was overcome one morning when I arrived at my friend’s donut shop and ONLY crullers were available. For that day, and many days to follow, they became my favorite.

Donuts may be the only reason I ever actually drank a cup of coffee.  Matter of fact, let me tell you the top five things I like about donuts:

1. They’re portable. You can take them from place to place. They travel well. They don’t require a fork or a plate.

2. You can eat three and claim you ate one. Unless there’s someone minding the box as the “donut police,” it’s difficult to determine who is consuming what and how much has been depleted.

3. The hole in the center—an illusion of fewer calories. You can always say, “It’s not that much” because at least half of it is empty space. Which brings me to:

4. They actually make donut holes. Also one of my favorites. Especially when they filled the little donut holes with whipped cream.

5. Eating donuts seems to be spiritual. A great way to have fellowship, or even, in some cases, overcome addiction, survive divorce, or be a part of any support group whatsoever. Because there is no church or organization in America that doesn’t greet you at the door with, “After the service is over, we have donuts and coffee available…” You see what I mean? Who could hate such an innocent vehicle of human joy and interaction?

Donuts bring people together.

But several years ago, I decided that donuts were not for me. If you are what you eat, then I was beginning to resemble a jelly filled donut—big and round, with lots of goo at the center. I did extremely well—as long as I didn’t look at them, smell them or have some really wicked person offer a fresh glazed one that was still warm.

Then, on August 14th, 2011, it happened. I even remember the time—7:32 P.M. I was driving along with my wife, Dollie, and my partner, Janet, when we passed a Dunkin Donuts and I thought to myself, why not? After all, we deserved a treat, didn’t we?

So I rolled into the parking lot and told Janet to go in and get us some of the delicious items. Jan is a wonderful woman, but not someone you want around when you have an addiction to donuts. Janet has never met a sweet treat that she was not willing to consume in excess. So when I told her that we should get MORE than a dozen—so we could “save them up for the week”—she readily agreed to go in a select a variety of two dozen.

Long story short, we went back and in probably less than two hours, the three of us consumed all two dozen.

Ridiculous, you may cry. Gluttony, you might charge. But we didn’t care. Having been deprived of them for so long, we gorged.

About an hour and a half later, my stomach and brain began to conspire in some sort of mystical journey of hallucination—not that dissimilar to how people describe an LSD trip.

I was sleepy. I was alert. I was fidgety. I was sick to my stomach. I had a headache. I think I had a conversation with the devil about sprinkles or icing. Needless to say, it was a bad trip. (Stay away from the purple icing…)

I think that evening cured me once and for all—because as much as I love donuts, they are crueller. What they do is tease you with their ease. They please you with their taste. And they attack you with regret.

For after all, we want to make sure that we are the ones eating the food, and not the food, in some strange way … totally consuming us.

 

   

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