Thursday, November 24, 2016


The Wampanoag Indians in 1621 invited the Plymouth Pilgrims to their harvest feast. This has become known as the first Thanksgiving. However it wasn’t until President Abe Lincoln in 1863 declared it a national holiday that it became official. Now, it wasn’t that people weren’t celebrating Thanksgiving, it was just that the leaders of the colonies and then states held Thanksgiving whenever they pleased. So, like the great unifier he was, Lincoln made it universal for all of America.
            What does all this mean? Simple, we’ve been feasting and celebrating and giving thanks for 365 years now.
            And now I find myself in a bit of a pickle. You see, I could go on writing about the history of Thanksgiving. I could tell you about how President George Washington made the first official proclamation for Thanksgiving. I could tell you that at the first Thanksgiving that it wasn’t even called Thanksgiving. That the menu had lobster on it, seal and even swans for the survivors of the Mayflower. Or, I could tell you about my day and what I am thankful for. Or I could just combine the two in some sort of abomination of writing.
            I think... I think… I think I will just wing it. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?
            This year Thanksgiving was an intimate affair for me and my family. No traveling. No guests and a small menu. We have our own traditions here in Casa de Novak. Especially when it comes to food. Thanksgiving we have turkey, Christmas is spiral cut honey glazed ham… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
            Weeks ago I had the menu set in my mind. I knew what I would cook, what sides we’d have and what desserts we would tantalize our palettes with. It is almost a set menu every year. Sure the sides may change, but we always have Turkey and mashed potatoes. So last week, when I stopped at the store and picked up a fifteen pound turkey and a bunch of sides and seasonings I wasn’t really thinking I was on my motorcycle.
            When I got the bags back to Bernadette, my motorcycle, I quickly filled my saddle bags with all the small bags. Seasoning, potatoes, fruits, veggies and milk took up all the room in both bags. Leaving me standing in the parking lot holding a fifteen pound frozen, plastic wrapped fowl in my arms. Now, understand this, you cannot operate a motorcycle with just one hand. Not unless you have an automatic clutch. It’s not happening. And, my model of Harley does not have an automatic clutch. So I tromped back into the store, went to the sparse hardware, automotive, miscellaneous aisle and found one small bag of what can only be described as the saddest excuse for bungee cords ever made. I purchased them, went outside and strapped that fifteen pound, frozen ball of poultry to my bike, all the while mumbling and cursing to myself. When it was secure enough, I climbed on, started her up and left the parking lot. But not before witnessing some very odd looks from other customers entering and exiting the store. I didn’t care. I’d secured my feast.
            Over the course of the next few days I made regular trips to the store to pick up other items I’d need, always making sure to take into account the limited space I had to place them into. Things went well.
            That is until a few days ago when I started to suffer from insomnia. Sure I’d fall asleep for a few hours only to wake up at one or two in the morning and then fight to go back to sleep. Which was usually about a half an hour before my alarm went off. The main cause of my insomnia? Pain.
            I’ve spoken before of my physical ailments so I’ll not go into detail here. However; they are getting worse. Last night was no different.
            I woke up at four in the morning. Which is better than one or two. I tried to go back to sleep. I tried clearing my mind of everything and I was almost successful. The black veil of slumber crossed my frontal cortex for just the briefest of moments and then, like a bad April fool’s joke. It left. Leaving me awake, in pain and my mind racing.
            In desperation I rubbed some natural ointments that were made for me by shamans in the Midwest. These ointments contain no preservatives, additives, subtractives, laxatives or any other kind of “Tives” you may or may not want in or on your body. Then I lay there for twenty minutes waiting for relief. It didn’t come. Sure there was some but not as much as I needed to relax. So I went to the bathroom and broke out the big guns of the ointment world. Arthritis cream with capsaicin. Then I washed my hands, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and went back to bed.
            I lay there for about five minutes before the ointment set fire to my genitals. You see, that stuff is oil based and it doesn’t wash off. Even as your standing in your bathroom pouring cold water and soap on your crotch and trying desperately to not cry like a four year old who just had all their Halloween candy stolen. Washing didn’t work. The burning intensified. I dried off, hobbled downstairs, grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer and for the next two and a half hours tried to watch television while freezing my junk.
            A great way to start the day. I suggest you try it.
            The rest of the day went well. Bacon was cooked, cinnamon rolls were made and the feast was prepared and the dishes were done. Football was watched along with a dog show and part of a parade and I even got to spend time with my outdoor cat. As well as with all of you.
            As for my list of things I’m thankful for. It’s simple. I’m thankful I live in the age I do. Where I have creams and ointments for my ailments along with pain pills when things get real bad. I’m thankful that I’m not one of only half the surviving pilgrims from the Mayflower. (Yes, over half of them died in the first year) I’m thankful I had the day off to rest and spend leisurely with my family. I’m thankful I’m not overseas fighting a war. I’m thankful for the few close friends I have. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful my talents are appreciated by the people I work with.
            Yet, here’s the funny thing. To me that is, you see, in order to be thankful for things, isn’t the opposite true as well? Aren’t there things we are unthankful for? I know I have a laundry list of those. I’ll not publish them now. No need for a downer when we are all fat and happy from a day of relaxation and overindulgence.
            Oh, one other thing I’m thankful for. Tomorrow, Gilmore Girls drops on Netflix. I love that show and I can’t wait to see what happened to Luke and Loreli and what about Rory? And all those other loveable characters from Star’s Hallow? Guess I’ll be doing some binge watching in the near future.

            Have a great week and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Cynicism

Your cynicism is showing.” My wife said with a look of amused disdain.
            We were standing at the exit door of the doctor’s office. You know, when you hit middle age and you have to go in for all sorts of tests and poking and prodding? Yeah, it was one of those visits. Not a pleasant thing to go through but it is something we must all be subjugated to.

            I smiled at her. She was standing between me and the door. Her smile and sarcasm were exuding off of her like so many pheromones. “Yeah, well, it’s mostly just sarcasm. After all, I don’t really hate Christmas. I just don’t like it as much as I used to.”
            “Well, other people can hear you. You need to whisper.”
            I turned around, there was a middle aged man sitting in a chair looking at his smart phone and a medical assistant sitting behind a counter tapping away at her computer. I turned back to my wife and mouthed a bunch of words without letting and sound escape my voice. She smiled and then laughed.
            I couldn’t help myself. My sarcasm, my wit, my disdain for one particular holiday simply because I end up working on it for over four months of the year couldn’t hold me back. The season of love, forgiveness and joy, a season that in my young teenage years was filled with disappointment, sadness and loneliness that had been changed in my early twenties to become a season filled with happiness and exuberance had now become a season of work, pain, toil and unending tasks, has overtaken me.

            I’m sure there is a simple mathematical equation that can explain all of this in my life. However; if I put it down here, I’m also sure it would bore the shit out of all of you. It’s not that I’ve lost my enjoyment of the holiday season. It’s that the shine of the season is now tarnished to me.
You see, if I were a chef and I spent four months of the year preparing a dinner for Easter or Thanksgiving, I’m sure I’d hate ham and turkey. Or if I were an environmentalist, I’d hate Arbor Day. Or if I were a maker of fireworks, I’d deplore the New Year and all the independence days that came with it. You see, it’s a matter of perspective to me. Take away all the twinkly lights, take away all the feel-good songs, take away all the movies, the media, the food drives and what do we have left?
            I’ll tell you what we have left; aside from the mandatory over spending of middle class America, we have a consumer based hike in the National Deficit. Just kidding. But seriously folks. Don’t go out and go into debt for Christmas. It’s not worth it. Your kids wont really remember it and neither will you.
            Tell you what… I’ll go over some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten in my life if you promise not to spend more than you can afford this year. Need I say this is in no particular order? Maybe I do. So, here are my top Christmas gifts in no particular order.
            1: a plastic palomino horse when I was about 6 years old. I loved that thing and I’ve no earthly idea whatever happened to it.  I received it the year my dad and mom moved us out of our house on Clover Lane in Green Bay and I had many adventures with it.
            2: My daisy BB gun. I had a ton of fun shooting that thing at all sorts of targets. Windows of my mean neighbor’s house. Paper targets. Sides of garages and the occasional bird, rabbit and squirrel. (Also, my friends when we got into BB gun fights. Even though they had the Crossman pump action I still managed to peg them with my trusty Daisy.)

            3: My unicycle that I never thought my mother or her fiancĂ© felt I needed. I learned a lot from trying to ride that blasted thing. Especially balance. And, I feel that most of the kids in the neighborhood who failed at riding it looked up to me because I could ride it.

            4: My K2 skii’s. I love skiing. I wish I could do it now. But, since I’m a middle aged man with bad knees and a back that hasn’t seen a day where it didn’t decide to cause me pain or suffering in one form or another, I doubt I’ll ever spend anytime barreling headlong down the side of a mountain with no worries or concerns in my life. It is an invigorating feeling. Being so close to the edge of the uncontrollable. Maybe that is why I ride a motorcycle now.

            5: My quilts and wall hangings. I have four. All hand made by people that care about me for some unknown reason. They say they love me and think I’m worthy of all the time, energy and effort they spend on creating things out of almost nothing. The love that was used in making them fills my heart and head with unfathomable joy, pride and respect.

            6: The cards. I’d like to pick one out in particular but I can’t. You see, back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, scrapbooking was all the rage and my family took to it like a fish to water. They made all these crazy cards and sent them to me. I saved every one of them. They are sitting in a drawer next to my bed. I have been known on very private and lonely occasions to take them out and read them. No matter how bad I feel, they seem to cheer me up and pull me away from the edge I’m straddling.

            7: My rainbow towel. It’s over twenty years old now and I still use it. Not on a daily basis. No. I can’t. Simply because it is threadbare and almost ready for the trash bin. It was something I once saw in a movie, made an offhand comment about and then, it showed up as a present on Christmas day. I love it and I always will. It not only reminds me of the diversity of life but how a simple comment can cause someone to go on the hunt for something that was damn near impossible to find in a life before the internet and e-commerce.

            8: The Atari 2600. This home video game brought more hours of enjoyment to me and my two step brothers at a time when our lives were filled with questions, concerns and a very real uncertainty of future in our lives. We didn’t have a lot of games but the ones we had, we played the shit out of.

            9: The Lionel Santa Fe train set. It wasn’t until about 6 or maybe 7 years ago that I was told the history of that train set and the impact it made on my family. But, as a young boy who was fascinated by all things mechanical, it was a great present. It helped me and my father bond by building a train layout in our basement and it helped me and my mother become closer after years of separation. And, once I found out the provenance of the train set, well, it just endeared the gift even more to me.

            10: The love of my family. I can’t go through my yearly struggles and tasks and not feel as if during these particular weeks that they don’t struggle and stress with me. I know how hard I work to help them and I know it is reciprocated by them to me. They don’t say it. They don’t talk about it. They don’t even complain about my grumpiness, my doom and gloom attitude or even my constant complaining of how terrible my body is and how it’s breaking down on me. They just keep doing whatever they can within their power to make sure I’m taken care of and my needs are met so I can take care of them. (This is not a gift you can wrap. This is not a gift that is given once a year. No, this is a gift that is given every day. And that is something that no one can ever truly put a value upon.)

            So, in short, I value the intangible. The gifts of love and affection that can only be given with love and affection and a small amount of money. I value time and connection. Not the latest and greatest. Just the vapors of a life with the people that mean more to me than the world can tangibly offer.

            Have a great week

Friday, November 11, 2016

and my heart broke

My daughter wept and my heart broke.

            It was the Wednesday morning. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her cry; nor was it the first time I was blessed with having to comfort her. She was wrapped up in my arms, her face buried in my chest and her arms were wrapped tightly around me. My arms were wrapped around her shoulders and one of my hands was gently stroking her hair. I tried to whisper calming words into her ear. She made no acknowledgment of my words, instead she just kept mumbling the word “why” repeatedly.
            After a few minutes, she regained some composure and pulled away. Once again she asked “Why”?
            I looked at her and responded “Goose, a person’s vote is their vote. Just like their religion. What you believe in is strictly up to you. How you vote, why you vote and who you vote for is strictly a personal choice. A choice that no one has the right to discredit you for or debase you for. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why people voted the way they did and it is their right to do so. You, me or for that matter, have no say in who or what they vote for.”
            “No buts Goose. Like it or not, we have to live what has been decided. You may not like it, I may not like it and many others may not like it but it is something that we have to live with.”
            “I think we should leave.”
            “Moving to another country will only create more problems in the future. What we have to do now is live with the situation and try to come out better in the end. Fleeing from a problem, real or perceived does not solve the problem.”
            “But… how could they?”
            “I can’t answer that. I don’t need to answer that. No one can. We just have to keep moving forward. America has survived forty-four presidents and it will survive a forty-fifth. No matter how good or bad that president may be.”
            “Did you vote for him?”
            “You know I didn’t.”
            “Did you vote for her?”
            “You know I didn’t.”
            “No buts, I voted for a third party candidate. Like I said I would. I voted my conscious. I didn’t base it on anything but the simple fact that I wanted a better world for you. For you to have more options in the future. I’ve more days behind me than I do ahead of me. And, maybe, just maybe, when you go to the polls for your first Presidential election in four years, you will have more choices, or maybe your children will. That is why I voted the way I did. Plain and simple. I’m looking for our country to grow, change and become better, I don’t believe that either of the two primary candidates could do that. So I voted for the strongest third candidate.”
            “I just don’t understand how America could do this.”
            “America didn’t do this, the people did. America is more than just people. America is an idea, and no matter how skewed some of the people are in America, America will always find a way to survive. So you need to stop asking why people voted the way they did and know that America will be just fine.”
            “I hope so.”
            “It will be.”
            “Have you ever been upset about an election?”
            “Can’t rightly recall. The last vote for President I cast and that President won was Ronald Reagan. I have a terrible voting record. Most of the people I vote for never win. They just fall off into obscurity.”
            “Doesn’t that hurt you?”
            “It hurts me.”
            “The pain will lessen. You’ll be okay. Besides, when you are older and people ask you if you ever voted for the Great Pumpkin, you can honestly say no.”
            She laughed. Not heartily, not enthusiastically, it was just a small chuckle really. The worry, anger and disappointment vanished from her face for just a moment. Then she looked me in the eyes and broke down again.
            I reached out to her, pulled her into my already tear stained shirt and tried to comfort her again.

            My daughter wept and my heart broke.