The Four-Legged Horror Movie

86428c9a9a461f8bf7a38cca1621b18d

I had always loved dogs. That is, until I met Peanut, a chihuahua owned by an old girlfriend, Rhonda. His name was the least of his problems. He had bulging, leaking eyes that made him look like he was being perpetually squeezed. He had a bronchial disorder that made even calm breathing sound like he had been chain smoking all his life. He had a mysterious skin condition that covered most of his body, caused almost all of his hair to fall out, and left a sticky substance on the hand of anyone who dared to pet him. Last but certainly not least, he had a protracted rectum. In short, he was repulsive whether he was coming or going. A four-legged horror movie. The cumulative effect of all these conditions caused the trembling common to chihuahua’s to afflict him tenfold, and gave him the appearance of a rodent suffering from hypothermia. 

Rhonda spent a fortune in veterinary bills on Peanut but nothing improved. I just couldn’t see the upside. All the money she had thrown away trying to restore Peanut to awful seemed like a terrible waste to me. I joked with her that the only expenses I would have had if Peanut were mine was a tennis ball and the gasoline required to drive to the Grand Canyon for a game of fetch. 

Rhonda had four other dogs of various breeds. For the sake of avoiding lurid and possibly vomit-inducing imagery, let’s just say Peanut was the “janitor” of the group. Maybe “hazardous material clean-up” is a better description. Whatever your imagination is doing right now, triple it. That’s right. Theirs was what is known in science circles as a symbiotic relationship. The other four dogs received assistance with personal hygiene in their hard-to-reach nether regions, and Peanut received a constant supply of tasty snacks. They were all very happy with this arrangement. The only ones who were not happy with it were any humans (such as myself) who were unfortunate enough to witness the ungodly spectacle. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about Peanut trying to lick my face immediately after one of his many daily haz-mat disposal procedures because, as if to make the monstrosity complete, he had the personality of a shaken-up bag of rattlesnakes. One would think he would have tried to compensate for his appearance (and odor) with a sparkling personality, but no. People who say dogs can’t hate, or that dog spelled backwards is G-O-D, never met Peanut. He was evil incarnate. The stuff of nightmares. The kind of thing that suddenly pokes its head out of a hole in the wall of a labyrinth in the bowels of hell just when you think hell couldn’t get any worse.

Peanut took an immediate dislike to me. I didn’t take it personally because he hated everyone, including Rhonda. It was a mystery to me why she was so devoted to the little pustule. While watching TV or having dinner with her, I would feel his bulging, lopsided eyes watching me, filled with unspeakable evil, probably fantasizing about tearing me limb from limb and devouring my entrails. I would attempt to stare him down, thinking he might suddenly become aware of our vast size disparity, but his glare would only intensify, as if he was saying, “Come at me, bro!” I always ended up looking away. It was terrifying. I once searched the skin under his fur while he was asleep to see if I could find the 666 that Demian’s father found on his scalp in The Omen.

I decided to try to be more mature one day and at least attempt to make friends with Peanut. I slowly sat down next to him, spoke to him in loving tones, gave him a biscuit, waited for him to finish eating, then, smiling broadly, extended my hand to pet him. 

I still have the scar.

Therefore, I was panic-stricken when Rhonda said Peanut would be staying at our apartment for a month. Apparently, he had some other ailment she didn’t want the other four dogs to catch. I suggested a kennel, a doggy B&B, or better yet, a dungeon where he could be fitted with four small manacles for the sake of the public safety (myself being “the public”) but she wouldn’t think of it for her darling Peanut. To make matters worse, I was working at home at the time and she worked elsewhere, so I would be alone with the Evil Seed every day.

The day he arrived, she handed me a list of medicines, special foods, instructions, and his walking schedule. Walking schedule? Now I had to hang out with him? It didn’t help that the apartment we shared was in an affluent neighborhood known for dog lovers. At any time of the day, posh-looking people walked posh-looking dogs, all of them with their noses in the air. Then there was me, walking the canine equivalent of Freddy Kreuger. Our neighbors’ usually warm smiles would gradually contort into grimaces as they saw us coming and beheld the full horror of Peanut up close. Then they would retch violently, depress the button on their spring-loaded leashes, reel in their precious Fifi’s and Lulu’s, quicken their pace, and give us a wide berth as they would one who walks with the plague. 

At first, I was embarrassed by this treatment. I even apologized once as someone fled in horror. But after a week or so, to my amazement, I started to feel – yes, I’ll say it – compassion for Peanut, and contempt for the snobs who shunned him. When they would look at Peanut with repulsion, I would say, “What’s wrong? Never saw a protracted rectum before?” I actually began to enjoy annoying them and disrupting their perfect world and delicate sensibilities.

After that, my feelings toward Peanut began to change. Even I didn’t see it coming. The pivotal moment occurred one day when I was at my desk working and Peanut was sleeping by the fireplace. He was having a harder time breathing than usual. I stopped working, knelt by him, put my hand on his chest and thought maybe he was so mean because he was in pain all the time, or because he was overcompensating for his tiny stature. Plenty of humans behave similarly. How must life be for a dog that weighs only a few pounds? I’m ashamed now that I didn’t feel anything for Peanut before this epiphany. I can only blame it on my youth. 

That day, I resolved to help Peanut overcome his health challenges. I became very studious about his health regimen and spent more time with him. To my amazement, we actually began to have fun together. There was a personality under all that attitude, after all. (His and mine.) Of course, it also helped that he was alone, with no other dogs to perform his haz-mat services on. That would have been a deal-breaker for me. Despite ourselves, old Peanut and I became pretty good buddies. 

This all took place many years ago. Peanut is long gone by now and either guarding the gates of hell single-pawedly, or in command of larger dogs that do. 

Clare Booth Luce wrote, “I don’t have a warm personal enemy left. They’ve all died off. I miss them terribly because they helped define me.” That little monster did help define me, so much so that I’m writing a story about him twenty years later. He helped me find something inside myself I needed to find, something imperative in this world – the ability to love the unlovable. He also taught me that the more love you give, the more you receive, and that sometimes one must try a little harder to love someone, and to access theirs. Maybe there’s something to that God spelled backward thing, after all.

Mister Rogers Gets a Twenty Million Dollar Grant from Congress – with a POEM.

Everything about Mister Rogers was as warm and magical as his show was. He knew how to communicate effectively with children and adults because he did it without bluster, ego, machismo, or any of the other qualities that seem to define many celebrities today. He did it with kindness and love as pure as the driven snow. He emanated goodness. He was a strong enough man to allow himself to be soft. That’s why this tough congressman loved him and didn’t feel embarrassed to tell him he gave him “goose bumps.” Most men are desperate to stop being so damn strong all the time. Mr. Rogers spoke to children in a way they understood, and he spoke to the child in all of us world-weary adults, too. I wonder what he would say about the condition of childhood in America today if he were still alive.

What do you do with the mad that you feel?
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong
and nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag
or see how fast you can go?
It’s great to be able to stop
when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong
and be able to do something else instead
and think this song . . .
I can stop when I want to.
I can stop when I wish.
I can stop stop stop anytime.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
and know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
that helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a lady
and a boy can be someday a man.

17 Children This Time

2077A606

I don’t expect very many people to read this. It’s going to be long. It will take a while to vent about this latest mass murder of our children by another recent child who decided being a monster was preferable to whatever he was experiencing. 

I was bullied terribly in school. I moved fifteen times before I was fifteen years old so I was perpetually “the new kid”, being tested over and over at each new school by children modeling unbalanced, cruel behavior they had probably learned from unbalanced, cruel parents or other relatives. The problem was I had no violence in me. I was born without an aggressive instinct or the need to dominate others to make myself feel strong, as children should be.

I don’t know why I was so passive. My father was a great provider and could be very loving, but there was also an insecure side of him that told stories of old fights in his youth on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, as if he were describing some happy event. My older brother wasn’t naturally aggressive, either, but his desperation to win over my father was so strong, he begged him to teach him how to box in the back yard and would get into fights at school on an almost weekly basis. When he would come home with another black eye, our father would say he shouldn’t do that (because he knew he was supposed to) but then he would ask what happened and his eyes would light up when he told him he won. The message was clear – violence is manly. 

God in heaven, it took me a long time to shake that belief. It took me a long time to realize that violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness.

When I was thirteen, again the new kid at a new junior high school, I was in P.E. class playing ping-pong when our ball jumped off the table and was picked up by a kid I didn’t know. I walked over and asked him for the ball. He didn’t give it to me. I asked him again. He said, “Why don’t you try to take it?”, then looked at his friends and laughed. When he looked away, I took it out of his hand, said thanks and walked away. He yelled “Hey!” and punched me as I turned around, all for taking a ping-pong ball that was mine to begin with. His equally disturbed friends then targeted me and the bullying began. The usual stuff – name-calling, knocking my books out of my hands in the halls, bumping shoulders, etc. Eventually, another one punched me for some made-up offense. 

Being a sensitive kid, I had not yet built up the rage necessary to learn to fight and walk around guarded, so I just took it. The truth is I was also scared. I didn’t understand these kids who so easily punched other kids in the face, and even seemed to take great pride and glee in it. I remember thinking I was glad it was they that were able to do that and not me, even as the cuts were healing and the bruises were yellowing.

I had taken an experimental sojourn into the world of bullying earlier in my childhood, sort of like trying on a costume. Fortunately, the costume didn’t fit me and I knew it right away. A classmate in fourth grade named Ward had told on me for talking in class and I punched him in the stomach by the bike racks after school. It was so against my nature to be cruel, I made myself physically ill from the guilt I felt about it. I tried to apologize to him the next day but he walked right by me. 

My best friend in sixth grade lived with a neglectful mother and had a father who was ex-military and stricken with the worst case of short-man’s complex I had ever witnessed before or since. The problem was he wasn’t short to me then, and seemed very manly. He was always bragging over beers about some poor, probably passive guy he had just pummeled, and would tell my friend to beat up a bully at school or don’t ever visit him again. He never spent a minute of quality time with my friend, but he was so desperate to connect with his father, we would walk across town to visit him where he lived with his new family. Of course, he would ask my friend to “make a muscle” and tell him about any fights he got into at school, beaming proudly when he said he won, just like my dad did. My friend became a bully. I didn’t. But then, my parents were together, and my father was a hell of a lot more loving, with a great sense of humor that balanced out the bad stuff. My mother was also more loving than his was. I just caught more breaks, and they saved me from becoming angry, bitter and resentful – all the precursors to psychotic.

I was bullied so badly at the new place we moved to when I was a very awkward thirteen year-old, I pretended to be sick to avoid school, or when I did go, I would walk toward the school until my mother drove away, then turn around and walk around town all day, returning home eight hours later as if I had been in school all day.

The stress a bullied child feels, to their minds, is equal to the stress any soldier feels going into battle. It’s all relative. A child who gets a giant zit on his/her nose on prom night is just as stressed as someone waking up in a hospital with a leg missing. Emotions are bigger to children because the world is new to them – life is new – and they are experiencing them for the first time. They don’t yet have the equal parts benefit and curse of experience and the comparative boredom that accompanies it. Some kids, anyway. A blessed few are somehow given that magical blend of wisdom that insulates them from the nonsense of high school cliques and head games. 

Despite all the bullying, though, the thought of murdering someone never crossed my mind back then. Not once. It wasn’t that the stress wasn’t there. It wasn’t that I didn’t hate them. So what was it? I have plenty of theories I could pontificate about, but what would be the use? Very few people will possess the required attention span to read a long post like this, and those that do are probably not going to be troubled enough to contemplate such horror and steered away from it by something I wrote. Nor will this post influence government policy. This is writing as pressure relief. Narcissistic in a way, because I don’t know what else to do. 

I have two daughters – four and six years old. I read to them and pray with them every night. My wife and I sleep in the same room with them. There are two beds side-by-side so the room is basically one big bed except for the dresser, which is bolted to the wall in the event of the California earthquake everyone says could strike at any minute. When I take them to school, I wait until the doors close and lock before I leave. I’m usually the last parent there. Some call it paranoia. I call it heightened awareness. I wish I didn’t have to worry, but how can’t I in a world with so many people hoping to become famous not by accomplishing something great but by becoming a monster. 

I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about those seventeen kids who went to school yesterday morning like any other day, waved goodbye to their parents, then ended up being murdered by somebody most of them probably didn’t even know. I held my girls a little tighter and prayed harder that they would be protected from the craziness of this world when I can’t be with them. I kissed my youngest daughters little hand as she slept. It smelled like a cookie she had eaten earlier that evening. 

So here’s my list of why mass shootings happen. All equally irrelevant and uncorrectable. 

  1. Absent or disinterested parents.
  2. Overworked teachers.
  3. Mean classmates.
  4. Complacent social media platforms and friends (who don’t report threats.)
  5. Violent movies and video games that inspire real-life experience, the way a drug dosage must be increased to achieve the same high.
  6. The general kindness in our culture, or lack thereof. 
  7. Celebration of the wrong things – celebrity and wealth vs. kindness and service to others.
  8. Incivility of speech and action. Look at the comments under any news story on the internet, even the most seemingly benign ones, and it doesn’t take long to find one with someone (usually operating under a nickname) verbally abusing someone else. Where did this lack of civility and respect come from? Certainly not from America’s Judeo-Christian background. People are getting uglier, meaner, less tolerant.
  9. The Internet. We tell our kids not to walk down dark alleys at night, but let their minds wander through a virtual one every day.
  10. Mental pollution. Watch any movie, documentary or home video prior to 1960 and you will see a different America populated by people whose minds had not been polluted by craven, ungodly imaged of depravity and violence, or the total degradation of the female that we call pornography. We accept these things as a natural part of modern life, but how natural are they, really? We’re all taking part in the largest mass experiment in history – to see what the effects of the constant exposure to depraved, violent imagery is on the human mind, particularly the adolescent mind. Have you ever wondered what your mind would be like if you had never seen a single, simulated murder? (The average American witnesses thousands of murders on TV, in movies and in video games before the age of 18.) Personally, I envy those who lived before 1960 for how pure their minds and spirits must have been. Childlike, as that word used to be defined. Many of them had survived world wars, which only made them even more committed to kindness and moral purity. Those who have seen the worst of humanity are most likely to celebrate the best of it. 
  11. Overpopulation and the lack of accountability it causes. People think they can treat anyone and everyone like dirt, blend back into the crowd, and never be questioned about it again. The human mind is better suited to life in small villages and feels small, insignificant and unimportant in giant crowds.
  12. Guns. The weapon of choice of the Florida killer and the Vegas killer was the AR-15 assault rifle, to ensure the largest number of murders. No civilian needs to own one of these to protect his home. The necessary evil of pistols in this increasingly violent and psychotic world is enough for anyone.
  13. More federal funding for mental health and mental health awareness.
  14. A greater emphasis on compassion from every conceivable angle – arts and politics – even with those we disagree with politically. The greater the divide is between each other, the easier it is to justify doing harm to others. 
  15. Pharmaceutical drugs. In the old days, kids were just called wild, spirited, or hyperactive, but the drug companies needed to name these conditions diseases, syndromes and disorders because you can’t sell a drug for something that doesn’t have a name. As a result, kids who are just different and will probably grow out of it are labeled so the pharmaceutical industry can sell them a drug. These drugs often causes “thoughts of suicide” – the TV ads for these drugs often say so – but you never hear “homicidal thoughts” for some reason, even though a lot of these homicidal kids were medicated. I don’t wonder why. It’s because Big Pharma has a stranglehold on us, in more ways than one. Any industry billions of dollars run through is rife with corruption. Some kids benefit from medication, but most can do without it. We are turning our kids into medicine cabinets and letting drug companies convince us that’s what they need – not time, love, spirituality, being heard. Nope, diagnosing them with some disorder and popping pills into their little yaps is much easier for today’s working parents.
  16. Severing of attachment to one or both parents through divorce, or just never having one to begin with because the parents are too self-centered to bother. A feeling of abandonment and isolation is possibly the root of all evil. My friend Amy Chesler taught me that. Her brother felt that way and ended up murdering their mother. Kids often act out the anger they feel at being cast aside. 
  17. Removal of God from school and just about everything else. It’s healthy for kids to believe their actions matter, even when nobody (mortal) is watching.

Okay, I’m putting the soapbox away. And that’s what it is. I mean, who cares about some little blog post? The kid who is developing a murderous rage or just the desire to be famous – to go from feeling like an insignificant nobody to a horrible somebody – will probably never read this blog. They’ll probably never read anything because that would take time away from playing Bulletstorm or Dead By Daylight.

Someone once argued with me that people have always been violent. For instance, the Nazi’s never played video games. Neither did the Japanese fascists. Most Muslim fanatics never did, either. I argued that the people they’re referring to were adults, and children didn’t start becoming mass murderers until recently. When children start to act in ways that have been the unfortunate domain of only adults for centuries, we are in deep trouble. Common sense tells me filling the minds of children with depraved images isn’t very good for them.

A quick Google search of “violent video game images” immediately demonstrates how psychologically unhealthy the world of “entertainment” has become over the past fifty years. 

images

10-Most-violent-video-games-punisher-featured

We’re supposed to be leading and guiding them wisely, not letting greedy corporations sell psychologically damaging products to them. We’re dying at the altars of freedom (“creative expression”) and profit. The people who make these games would make a movie or video game about eating babies if they thought they could profit from it. Who will care about the minds of our children if we don’t? Certainly not them.

charlie-higson

original

 In my late 20s, I saw a robbery victim murdered. He died in my arms. I put pressure on the wound but couldn’t stop the bleeding. He was shot in the chest and his windpipe was obliterated. With his dying breaths, he looked at me with the same question in  his eyes that all victims of violent crime ask – “Why me?”

For several years after that, I carried weapons and threw myself into my martial arts training so that I could kill anybody who would do such a thing to someone else if I ever crossed paths with a monster again. I was finally angry enough to be violent. The fact that the bullied kid still existed in me didn’t help. The kid was now a two-hundred pound black belt who hated thugs or anyone who looked, dressed or acted like them.

It took concentrated effort to purge that rage from my soul so I could be happy again. I still have resentment for anyone who could do harm to others and I’m willing and able to stop them but I don’t allow them to pollute my thoughts or disrupt my peace anymore.

I own two guns in case the craziness of this world comes to my door. I’m overprotective of my daughters because of my past, rising crime, and mass murders like the one that happened yesterday. That includes what I allow or don’t allow to enter their minds. The bubble of innocence will pop soon enough. I’ll protect it as long as I can. 

But again, no matter what I think, those seventeen kids are gone and they’re never coming back. Seventeen kids with heartbroken parents whose worst nightmare came true yesterday. Seventeen kids who, just ten years ago, had hands that smelled like cookies.

Maybe the lesson to be learned from all this, if there is one, and if we’re capable of learning as a culture, is to be kinder, more attentive, to reach out to troubled people, to report suspicious comments or behavior. A few lines from two now obscure songs come to mind –

“Oh, people, look around you, the signs are everywhere – you’ve left it for somebody other than you to be the one to care.” (Jackson Browne)

“I’d like to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you.” (Ten Years After) 

After the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school, I posted the poem below. I don’t know why I persist in thinking words will help me or anyone else. Again, I suppose it’s just pressure relief. For what it’s worth, here it is again – 

The Open Window

The old house by the lindens
   Stood silent in the shade,
And on the gravelled pathway
   The light and shadow played.

I saw the nursery windows
   Wide open to the air;
But the faces of the children,
   They were no longer there.

The large Newfoundland house-dog
   Was standing by the door;
He looked for his little playmates,
   Who would return no more.

They walked not under the lindens,
   They played not in the hall;
But shadow, and silence, and sadness
   Were hanging over all.

The birds sang in the branches,
   With sweet, familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
   Will be heard in dreams alone!

And the boy that walked beside me,
   He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! closer,
   I pressed his warm, soft hand!

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

old-young-hands-12968332

What Happened to Peace and Love?

f91cfba68f3dbe53aeb8f8840f52c4e5--the-rifles-flower-power
There’s no way to say any of the following without sounding like a crotchety old carbunkle, but for all you youngsters today who may not know it, back in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a real, serious, dedicated movement that centered around coming together as friends, seeing beyond differences to the heart and soul, ending war once and for all, etc.
We have gradually lost sight of that goal as time has passed. It’s like we’re all standing among the ruins of a half-built Utopia without the will or ability to complete it. In fact, many people seem to be determined to widen political/religious/social/racial divisions and wipe out everything not exactly like themselves. (Exactly what the Islamic terrorists are guilty of, ironically.)
I was a kid in the 60’s, but I was befriended by a group of hippies, and let me tell you, they lived their philosophies. They made me feel like a prince at a time when I felt pretty small and insignificant. I told that story in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book called Random Acts of Kindness.
I’m not saying we should all become hippies, or even that they were right about everything. For instance, I don’t respect the fact that they wanted to put limits on everything except their own behavior. But what can’t be questioned is their level of commitment to peace and love. I wonder if we’ll ever get back to that ideal of seeking understanding and compassion. We can’t have anything unless we first actually want it, and wanting is useless without action. In other words, if we don’t define what we want, there’s no way to ever achieve it.
There will always be evil and naked aggression that needs to be squashed by non-pacifists. (ISIS, Al Quaeda, the Taliban, Nazi’s, fascists, etc.) But it’s equally and maybe even more brave to seek peace in our daily lives with people we have nothing in common with, to try to connect as human beings and see past (or not even notice at all) our racial/sexual/economic/educational/religious divisions, and all the other ways we divide ourselves from others. After all, the first requirement for doing evil to another is to think of them as something separate from ourselves, or even non-human. That’s why the first thing Hitler and every tyrant like him did to win over the mindless masses was to label the group he wanted to persecute as “vermin” that needed to be exterminated. This is how he convinced men who weren’t born killers to murder women and children. 
Every measure of peace must be attempted before breaking out the guns, or fists. At least the hippies were brave enough to try, you know?
Here are a few songs from back in the day that illustrate my point. Feel free to message me with your favorite.
Why Can’t We Be Friends – War
Stop Children What’s That Sound – Buffalo Springfield
Love is the Answer – England Dan and John Ford Coley
Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone
Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire
The Times They Are a-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
Blowin’ in the Wind – Peter, Paul & Mary 
Give Peace a Chance – John Lennon
Some Mother’s Son – The Kinks
fSMkZa8.jpg

 

To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

1-1

A war has been raging for decades. It’s a war we don’t hear about on the news. Like religion and politics, it isn’t discussed in civilized company. This war is not fought with guns and bombs, it’s fought with pens. It is the horrible, ghastly war between . . . rhymers and non-rhymers. The iambic pentameter crowd versus the free verse crowd. No prisoners are taken and no mercy is shown by either side.

All kidding aside, I like them both, but only if both are ultimately understandable. “Ultimately” meaning after two readings. If the poem is so abstract that only the writer gets it, the writer failed, not the reader.

The free verse army says rhyming poetry is childish and unsophisticated, largely as a result of syrupy poems in Hallmark greeting cards. And let’s face it, they usually are. It’s hard to rhyme well (without sounding like a nursery rhyme) and tell a good story that accesses emotion.

The rhyming crowd argues that it takes as much or more talent to write a meaningful, emotionally impactful poem that also rhymes and has meter, structure and rhythm than it does to write one that has none of that. To them, criticizing rhyming poetry is like saying Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Frost and even Shakespeare (who wrote a heck of a lot of sonnets) were a bunch of nincompoops.

Here’s a good example of a rhyming, emotionally moving poem. The story behind it is almost as good as the poem itself.

A friend of mine found it at the bottom of an old box in his parents’ garage. He asked his dad about it. He said the author was a man named Vernon Watson, who performed in theaters around London in the 1930’s and 40’s. He would sing, dance, tell stories and recite poems. A little bit of everything. The audience would start out laughing and end up crying, or vice-versa. He performed under the name Nosmo King, and thought up that name one night while looking at a “No Smoking” sign in one of the theaters. Here it is. I dare you not to get choked up.

muzhik-gorod-valenki-chb-bomzh-dozhd

Providence

Have you ever been broke? Just broke to the wide?
With what you stand up in and nothing beside?
Living on scraps the best part of the week
When you can get them, and with nowhere to sleep?

1959-slapende-zwerver-ed-van-der-elsken

I’ve been like that on a cold winter’s night
When the streets were deserted and nothing in sight
But a slow-moving bobby whose job is to see
That the public’s protected from fellows like me.
Who get put inside to answer in court
Why they’re wandering around without means of support.

It always strikes me as a queer sort of joke –
To pick on a man just because he is broke.
Do they think he enjoys wandering around in the rain,
Soaked to the skin with a dull, aching pain
Through his stomach, forgetting his last decent meal
And just praying for the time when he’s too numb to feel.
Life isn’t worth much when you get to that state –
Of just waiting to die and nowhere to wait.

8311bac156cf97c5812188daacd5903a

I remember the time, it’s a long while ago,
When I stood on a bridge with the river below.
The last food I’d had was two days before
And I never expected I’d need anymore.
That night was the worst that ever I’d known,
With a dirty, wet fog that chilled to the bone.
I set my teeth hard and I set down my heel
On the rail that my hands were too perished to feel
When a sniveling pup came out of the fog
And whimpered at me, just a scrap of a dog.
Bedraggled and dirty, like me, just a wreck,
With  a sad, little face on his poor, scraggy neck.

Unknown

A few seconds more and I would have died
But he licked my hand and I just sat down and cried.
I wrapped up the poor little chap in my coat
And carried him off with a lump in my throat.
I took him along to the one place I knew
Where they’d give him a bed and a biscuit or two.

ca461f07f0900c39766ab6f7c2279aed

They didn’t seem keen on taking him in
But the sergeant-in-charge gave a bit of a grin
When I told him, “The dog could do with a meal.”
He said, “I’ll fix him up, but how do you feel?”
It may be perhaps that the sergeant had seen
the state I was in, I wasn’t too clean.
The hunger and cold that I’d suffered all day
Exhausted my limits and I fainted away.

Well, they fed me and slept me gave me two bob.
The following day, they found me a job.
I’ve worked ever since and I’ve put a bit by.
I’m comfortable now and I don’t want to die.
I’ve a nice, little house in a quiet, little street
With a decent-sized garden that’s always kept neat.
I’ve worked there a lot when I’ve had time to spare
And I’m so proud of one little corner that’s there,
With the pick of my flowers ‘round a little old stone,
That stands in a corner, all on its own.
It bears an inscription, not very grand.
The letters are crooked, but you’ll understand –
That I wasn’t too steady, I couldn’t quite see,
At the time that I carved it, quite recently.

These are the words I carved on the stone –
“Here lies my friend when I was alone.
Hopeless and friendless, just lost in a fog,
God saved my life with the help of a dog.”

20748274_10155604580756350_4140877580574991524_o-1

~ Vernon Watson AKA Nosmo King, 1930

 

11. Homeless

maxresdefault

3d1bf6ee0b7cbf816a6937511dbcf499--vintage-dachshund-vintage-dog

one_man_and_his_dog___by_fbuk

The photo of the dog’s tombstone was actually made by a friend of mine as a prop for a filmed version of this poem we made. (I played the homeless man.) The words on the stone are a little different because I wrote it from memory and didn’t have this – – –

A YouTube video uploaded by someone who had one of Vernon’s old 78’s. (For you youngsters, 78’s were vinyl LP’s that pre-dated 33’s and 45’s.) His diction and delivery is very heightened and melodramatic, as was the style of the time. His voice reminds me of Boris Karloff’s quite a bit. Oddly, the version I have also has a few more lines than Nosmo’s recorded version. Enjoy!

That We Were Kind (poem)

oldlady.jpg

Does anyone know where the little boy went?
The little boy who used to be me?
He’s still alive somewhere inside this shell,
Though the shell is all you can see.

Can you still see him reaching out for love
From behind these time-worn eyes?
The child with a heart as bright as the stars
Hiding beneath this thin disguise?

What a cruel trickster Father Time can be,
Changing our costumes as we age.
From infant to child, and from young to old,
A new character with every stage.

We might as well be four different people.
The adult barely resembles the child.
The external transformation is so complete,
Young and old are rarely reconciled.

But there are some whose eyes still twinkle,
For whom the child within never dies.
The outside world can see only the surface.
Only they know how their surface lies.

What can we learn from all this changing?
From the fact that nothing is real?
How can we judge by a deceptive façade
That hides the way we truly feel?

The way to get the whole picture, it seems
Is to think of everyone that we see
As the child they were, who they are today,
And the old person they soon will be.

We should also see them as dead and gone,
Their short life on earth finally done,
With all their trials rendered null and void,
All their battles either lost or won.

Whitman wrote, “The powerful play goes on
And you may contribute a verse.”
The same is true for every person we meet.
We make their lives better or worse.

Thus, we should measure disheartening words
And make sure they need to be spoken
So we won’t be among those who caused dismay
If they reach the end of life heartbroken.

And when those we’ve known are old and gray,
Remembering years they left behind,
Comforting words we said might return again
With the memory that we were kind.