Agape, Authoritarianism, Becky, Belief, Brett, Christianity, Citizenship, Class War, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Conservative, Democracy, Fantasy Based Community, God(s), Guilt, Judeo-Christian Tradition, Late Night Thoughts, Liberal, Love, News and Current Events, People, Philos, Play, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Progressive, Reality Based Community, Regret, Religion, Romantic Love, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Society, Work

Late Night Thoughts (Reposted from February 20, 2011)

There are few noises at this hour.   A car passes in the distance.  The house creaks.  The furnace starts.  I have not heard a dog bark in hours.

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…”It is really annoying when people, particularly those in positions of power, can’t even be bothered to take the trouble to lie well.” — Yves Smith.

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…To oppress a mother is to oppress a democracy, for it is mothers who teach the value of democracy to their children.

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…It seems what’s happening in Wisconsin is part of the class war in America that’s been going on for sometime now.  As Warren Buffett pointed out, the war was begun by members of his class, and his class is winning it.

Unfortunately, if rich billionaires like the Koch brothers win the Wisconsin round in the class war, that means they will have managed to break the Wisconsin public service unions.  And if they manage to do that, then the Democratic party will be left as nothing more than a paper man in that state.

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…The other day, I noticed an advertisement that claimed the Bible was, of all the world’s wisdom literature, the most profound.  Now, I’ve heard that claim made before in various ways and places.  But, I confess, I have never understood why anyone would make that claim.

As wisdom literature, the Bible seems to have been often surpassed. And not just by many of the ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, or Chinese authors.  But also by more modern authors.

To give some of the Biblical authors credit, though, their concern for social, political, and economic justice was remarkable for their time, and — thankfully — very influential on the West.

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…There seems to be a sense in which almost all complex, hierarchical societies — even going as far back as to the origin of complex, hierarchical societies some 5,500 years ago — have been scams.   Moreover, it’s been the same scam perpetrated again and again.  And, in essence, that scam has been to fool the masses into believing the society’s elites have the backing of a supernatural order.

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…There are many people in this god-drunk town who cast their blurry vision on science and declare that it, too, is a religion.  The last drunk to tell me that declared, as his reasoning, “Religions are based on beliefs. Science is based on beliefs. Therefore, science is a religion.”

By precisely the same “logic”, “Cats are furry.  Dogs are furry.  Therefore, dogs are cats.”

But, even if his reasoning was logically valid — which it is not, unless dogs are cats — what would not then become a religion?  Indeed, even one’s overwhelming desire to take a shower after hearing him espouse his drunken  “logic” would, according to his drunken  “logic”,  become a religious act.

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Just now, a motorcycle started up, then sped off.  In the day, it would be just another cycle.  But in the night, it seems a story in itself.

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…Humans are natural born cartographers.  We make maps of the world, which we call “beliefs”.   It’s what our species does.

Sometimes, our maps are more or less accurate.  And sometimes, they are fantasy maps, like the ones we made as children to show where a pirate’s treasure lay buried in our backyard.

The accuracy of our maps often matters less to us than the fact they are ours.  Because, for most of us, our maps are something we think of as us.

Now, when we fall in love, she sooner or later challenges our maps…

And, if our love survives those challenges, there’s a chance that our love is true.

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…Tonight, I came across in a faded notebook a line from a poem I once wrote to a woman: “No one has made me wish / To face with grace the challenge / of her morning breath like you, Joelle.”   And consequently, reading that line, I had a sudden and abrupt realization of precisely how it is that I have managed all these years to remain celibate despite the occasional woman who’s now and then been interested enough in me to even read my poems.

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…Once I saw a Seven-Eleven that was closed.  Locked up and abandoned.

Since everything inside the impossibly dark store windows was in place and intact, I eventually concluded it must be a clerk who didn’t show up for work.  But I at first thought: “Not even a president’s death can close a Seven-Eleven. It must be something.  It must be big.”

Perhaps there is inside all of us a thing — a strange, hard thing — that now and then longs for an event so big it will close even the world’s Seven-Elevens.

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…When I met Becky she was in her 30s and would now and then do something completely spontaneous: Always some little thing, but it was an attractive quality.   Even in a city, birds from a branch put to air like her.  So, though they live like the rest of us amongst the concrete and noise, you can see how those birds are beyond the artificial world we have created for them — how they are still native to the earth and sky.  Some people are like that.

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…So far, I have found only three things with power to redeem the human condition: Love, work, and play.  And of those three, love is the greatest.

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…Brett called to invite me to lunch the other day  (Brett was 15 the year we first met at the coffee shop.  I was perhaps 40 or 42).   So, we met at a tavern where the beer is watery, but the food is good, and I enjoyed talking with him so much the time slipped past on rabbit’s feet.

At some point in the afternoon, after we had exhausted half a dozen topics, Brett said he suspected the reason quite a few kids had hung out with me years ago at the coffee shop was because I was for the most part nonjudgmental.   So I told him that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard from a fellow human, if indeed he was actually human. So, I thanked him for confirming a suspicion I’d had.  Then, being an insufferable old fart, I told him a story he’d already heard at least twice from me, and one he probably didn’t want to hear again.

After we had parted for the evening, I reflected on the fact that Brett had certainly been one of the most intelligent people at the coffee shop, and very likely one of the wisest.  Yet, it had never been any one thing that led me to those conclusions.  Like a stream of gold dust, Brett is someone who stands out from the crowd not for any one big thing, but for the cumulative impression made on you by a thousand glittering details.

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…My second wife had a taste for dresses by Ungaro.  Is Ungaro still around?  That Italian knew how to make a woman wearing silk look like a nude.

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…This night, for the first time in ages, I recall once a woman and I spent nearly two years laughing together.  No, she was not my wife, but a co-worker.  We worked together in the evenings, and we’d spend every moment we could with each other.  Then, when I moved on to a day job, I still dropped by her workplace in the evenings to laugh with her.

One day, I invited her out to a movie.  But by the time she got to my place, it was too late to catch a show.  At a loss for much else to do, I tried nibbling on her ear.  Consequently, two years of laughing together led to her having three explosive orgasms: The best in her life, she told me.  After that, you might think she’d be happy.

Yet, somehow, by the next day, she had translated everything — all of it — into guilt and regret.  “You must think I’m a slut”, she said, “because I slept with you on our first date.”

“No, I feel as if I’ve been courting you for two years”, I said, “Besides I’m in love.”

“Even if you don’t think I’m a slut”, she said, “When I saw you this evening, it made me think of myself as a slut, and then my heart sank to the floor.  I can’t see you again.”  And she meant it.

It was much later I realized that, despite our rapport, only one of us had been in love.

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It is almost dawn.

Coffee Shop Stories, Friends, INCOMING!, Lovers, Quality of Life, Relationships, Sex, Sexuality

“What If I Happened to be Fondling Your Butt…”

Dear Readers,

I was thinking tonight what if I happened to be fondling your butt and we were lovers, but not really friends.  Would I be fondling your butt any differently than if we were friends?

And I think, yeah, I think I would be.  I think — if we were not friends — I would be fondling your butt mostly for my own sake.  But if we were indeed friends, then I’d be fondling your butt for both our sakes.  I would want us both to win.

Just a reflection I had tonight after overhearing someone yesterday at my corner coffee shop tell her girlfriend that she didn’t want to date some guy because he was her friend — and she didn’t want to risk losing him as a friend.

Hah!  Wish I could fondle her butt!  I’d show her the error of her ways!

(Inexplicably, she declined my offer of participating in a scientific experiment to test her hypothesis about sex and friendship.  Even went so far as to call me “a dirty old man”!  Me!  The twenty-somethings these days!  Not at all as friendly as we were back in my day.  She wouldn’t even tell me her name.  There are no sensible people left! It’s all cold, aloof wackos out there now! Nutjobs and wackos!)

All the best,

Paul

Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Magic, People, Suzanne

That Loud Pounding Sound You Hear Near Midnight​

Suzanne loves to hike moonlit mountain trails, and her favorite hour for it is midnight.

To give her credit, there are few things so magical as the mountains on a moonlit night. The trees, the bushes, the rocks, and even the occasional animals, all look ghostly, enchanted.

Add to that, the charm of sometimes being able to come within a stone’s throw of wild animals, such as a herd of mule or whitetail deer. Mule deer — at 30 or 40 feet away in the night — are so well camouflaged they can barely be seen at that distance, even in moonlight. And once they spot you, they don’t flee, as they might during the day, but stealthily move off, as silently as they can.

Large, silently moving, dimly seen shapes have a short of eeriness to them. An eeriness that appeals to Suzanne like rain puddles to a child. She loves how the moon enchants the mountains.

Continue reading “That Loud Pounding Sound You Hear Near Midnight​”

Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, People, Suzanne

Suzanne and I Decide to Get Naked

(About a 3 minute read)

“What’s that?”, I asked, pointing at a large billboard we were passing on the highway.

“I couldn’t read it in time.” Suzanne replied from behind the wheel.

“It said something about a hot spring called ‘The Well’. Ever hear of it?”

“Nope.”

“Take the next exit South.”

Continue reading “Suzanne and I Decide to Get Naked”

Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, People, Suzanne

Suzanne Causes a Stir

(About a 2 minute read)

Suzanne doesn’t always make the wisest life decisions. She’s a bit too impulsive for that. Sometimes she gets herself into a bit of trouble. But she is remarkably resilient and unusually resourceful. She always bounces back.

In fact, her ability to bounce back from adversity is one of the things I most admire about her. I know of very few other people who do it as well or as consistently as Suzanne.

Sometimes I’m able to help her bounce back.

One day, she and I were siting in our favorite coffee shop when she suddenly announced, “I’m going to start keeping track”.

Continue reading “Suzanne Causes a Stir”

Allies, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, People, Suzanne

My Introduction to Suzanne

(About a 4 minute read)

The story begins more than 25 years ago when I owned and operated a tiny little business in Illinois employing 13 people. To make this brief, I won’t go into the details of how one day I found myself thumbing through Victoria’s Secrets catalogs on a business mission to find flannel pajama prices — but it happened that one day I found myself doing just that.

I was flipping through the pages quite rapidly when I felt stopped in my tracks. What had I just seen? I thumbed back two or three pages. There, posed on a bed, was a young model in her underwear looking straight at the camera.

Continue reading “My Introduction to Suzanne”

Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Attachment, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Daughters, Fatherless Girls, Friends, Human Nature, Jackie, Jerks, Judgementalism, Life, Living, Love, Lovers, Mental and Emotional Health, Obsession, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Sarah, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-determination, Self-Knowledge, Sex, Sexuality, Society

All the Young Women

SUMMARY: I take a look at the women I met some years ago in Colorado Springs, and then draw a few conclusions about the challenges they faced at that time in their lives.

(About a 8 minute read)

People are often more predictable than life itself.  I can often predict, with surprising accuracy, what a long-term friend will do in almost any situation, but my life has taught me that it can be considerably more difficult to predict where I will be in a year or two.

I certainly did not expect when I came to Colorado that I would soon know — at least casually — about 200 young men and women twenty years younger than me, nor that about two dozen of them would befriend me.

Yet that’s what happened — largely as a direct consequence of my choosing to frequent a coffee shop that both served the cheapest cup in town and was the hang out of hundreds of local high school students.  Since it was also the oldest and most established coffee shop in town, it was also the hang out of everyone else — from the mayor and some city council members to several homeless people.

Continue reading “All the Young Women”

Brett, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Community, Doug, Free Spirit, Harriet, Life

Nathan and the Americans

(About a 9 minute read)

“American’s are impossible to understand.”

Everyone of us at our table turned to look at him where he sat at a table next to ours.  He was a young man, in his twenties, with short, almost crew cut hair, a wide smile, and a white T-shirt, and jeans.

“Why do you say that?” I asked after a few moments during which we sized him up, and he sized us up in return.

Continue reading “Nathan and the Americans”

Abuse, Art, Coffee Shop Stories, Don, Human Nature, Humor, Ideologies, Knowledge, Late Night Thoughts, Life, Love, Lovers, People, Play, Quotes, Relationships, Religion, Sarah, Science, Suzanne, Village Idiots

Late Night Thoughts: Richard Feynman, Flirting, Contrary People, Big Ideas, and More

(About a 13 minute read)

To oppress a mother is to oppress a democracy, for it is mothers who teach the value of democracy to their children.

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Some years ago, if I heard a pounding on my door around 11:30 on a full moon night, I could reliably guess it was Suzanne come by to demand that we go for a midnight hike in the mountains.   I always went for — after all — how often do you get to risk becoming a mountain lion’s next meal?  Besides, the mountains are magic at night.

Suzanne was, and still is, highly intelligent, creative, beautiful, and resilient.  At the time we were taking midnight hikes, however, she was also largely dysfunctional due to an untreated bipolar disorder.  That kept me from developing a genuine emotional intimacy with her, for it’s difficult to feel genuinely intimate with someone who — for whatever reason — is wrapped up in themselves.  Nevertheless, we did pretty good as casual friends.

One crisp night, we set out for a trail head, but when we got there, a noisy group of about seven or eight people were setting off down the trail, so we decided to drive on.  That eventually landed us on a dirt road high up in the mountains.  Since it was about two or three in the morning, and no one was likely to be traveling that narrow road but us, we parked the car in the middle of the road, put the top down, and threw a blanket over us in order to stargaze.

The moon soon enough went down behind the mountains.  The sky blazed with what seemed like five thousand stars, and Suzanne and I fell into silence.  After 45 minutes or an hour, Suzanne spoke.  “Why do I have to be in love with Jeff?”

“I don’t know.  Have you figured that out?”

“Not yet.  I just don’t understand why I get along with you better than I get along him, but I’m in love with him.”  After a moment, she went on,  “I love you too, of course; just not in the same way.”

Jeff was Suzanne’s boyfriend.  Like Suzanne, he was highly intelligent.  He was also abusive.  Whenever we were together, Suzanne would sooner or later start talking about him.   Usually, she spoke of his most recent outrages.

I knew, by that time in my life, that criticizing someone’s partner — even someone’s abusive partner — would most likely achieve nothing more than cause them to rally to the defense of their partner, so I carefully avoided giving Suzanne any hint of how profoundly I loathed Jeff for his abuse of her.   “That does seem strange”, I said as evenly as I could, “I mean that you get along with me better than him.”

“I do love him.”  She turned to look at me.

“Is he good for you?” I replied, looking at her and trying my hardest not to make my question sound like a challenge.  I thought that, if only she would ask that question, sincerely ask that question….

“But I love him!”  She protested.  “That’s got to count for something, right?”  She’d done exactly what I feared: Taken my question for a challenge, rather than genuinely think about whether he was any good for her.

Suzanne was twenty years younger than me.  She had yet to learn the difference between genuinely loving someone and merely being emotionally dependent on them.   Nor was there anyway I could have explained those things to her that night.  Although she never would have expressed it this way,  on some level, Suzanne believed the world was fair and just, and that Jeff had to sooner or later come around if for no other reason than she loved him so much.

In time, Suzanne came to her senses and dumped Jeff.

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Today, May 11, is the anniversary of Richard Feynman’s birth.  He was born 1918 and died 1988.  Probably, I think, not only one of the greatest physicists of the 20th Century, but also one of wisest people of that century.

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.  — Feynman

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I think Sarah was fifteen when I met her.  She and I were both regular customers at the coffee shop and we often enough sat together at the sidewalk tables.  Sarah was one of a small handful of girls who would keep me company even when I was not sitting with any handsome boys their own age.  She also struck me as generally cheerful, optimistic, and sensible.  The sort of level-headed, but occasionally mischievous, young person who gives you hope for the future.

One sunny morning,  about a year after Sarah and I first met,  I was sitting by myself when I happened to glance down the street towards the local high school.  About two blocks away, a woman was walking towards the shop, and though I couldn’t make out her face at that distance, there was something in the way she walked that made me recognize it was Sarah.  I think it might also have been the style of skirt she wore, for Sarah favored long, flowing skirts with a certain kind of print — almost paisley.

As I had guessed, it indeed turned out to be her.

When she arrived, she came straight to my table, and we were soon discussing her jewelry for no other reason than to pass the time of day.   “I have the worse luck, Paul.  Every piece I own has lost its partner.  This ring — see the naked man?   This silver ring had a naked woman that went with it.  That way you could divide the ring into two pieces, and give one piece to your lover.   But I lost the woman.  An ex of mine wouldn’t give it back when we broke up.”

“And you see the man in the moon in my earring? I used to have another earring just like it, but I somewhere lost it.”  She grinned.  “Now I have the moon in one ear, and a dragon in the other.”  She turned her head one way and then the other to show me.

We went on like that for an hour or two it seemed: Simply enjoying the sunny, but cool weather.  Eventually, she had to go back to school, for though her high school had an open campus policy, she was of course expected to attend classes if they were not study halls.

A few weeks later, Sarah and I were again at the coffee shop together.  At some point in our conversation, she decided to draw a dragon for me.  She explained as she was drawing it, that she had practiced and practiced drawing the dragon until she could almost draw it blindfolded.

“Ah! Well executed!  I know you like dragons.”  I remembered her earring.

“Oh yes!  Did I tell you about my dragon lamp?  I have a lamp that a candle fits inside.  When you burn the candle, it casts dragon shadows on the walls.  I love it! I use it as a night light.”

It all came together for me one evening a few months after that.  Sarah and I were once again at the coffee shop, but this time it was towards dusk.  Another man had joined us  — a guy about my age, which was twenty-five or so years older than Sarah.   He and Sarah were flirting with each other, which rather more bored me than anything else.  I became absorbed in watching the sunset.

Presently, the man left to go home, or go to his job, I don’t quite recall which now.  Sarah soon turned to me, “I love flirting with older men”, she said.  “I know I won’t let it go anywhere.  The age difference makes that impossible.  But you can learn so much!  Should I be ashamed of myself, Paul?”

I don’t remember now exactly what I said to her, but she responded by almost pouting — a very unusual expression for her — and then playfully suggesting that I was a public killjoy for refusing to flirt with people, especially with her.  That so surprised me that I felt I needed to make amends!  Hence, within a few days, I composed a simple poem just for Sarah.

She’s a woman in the grace of sixteen summers
With skirts flowing in the morning sun
And she speaks of the silver man ringed naked
A dancer who dances alone
For her jewels have all lost their partners
But the moon still laughs in one ear
And she sleeps in the shadow of dragons
With a heart uncorrupted by fear

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Physics isn’t the most important thing. Love is.  ― Richard Feynman

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Some “religious” people are just contrary.  They profess to be Hindus or Christians, Muslims or Jews, Buddhists or Taoists, but their real religion is simply to find fault with other people.

God, enlightenment, the Tao are to them little more than concepts that they imagine give them ultimate permission to condemn folks, to dehumanize them.  “I speak for God”, they imply.  “I speak for the Tao.”  Such strange people: Always hiding behind some pillar like “God”, peeking out only to snarl!

But such people are not confined to religions.

No, you find them in the lunatic fringes of every political and social movement, every ideology — including the better ones.  What sort of person makes it their life to condemn others?  What sort of person lives for it?

It is part of the comedy of our species that we often give them the time of day.

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The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.  ― Richard Feynman

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To me, the ultimate goal in life is neither meaning nor happiness, but to be as true to yourself as you can be in a socially and environmentally responsible way.   The way I see it, if you shoot for that, then you’ll find what meaning and happiness there is for you in life, like icing on the cake.  But I don’t see how living falsely can bring about either meaning or happiness.  Of course, all I really know is that it works for me.

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I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.   ― Richard Feynman

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Top 40 Lovers

I listen to the radio play those old two songs:
“How I love him more than life itself” and “How she did me wrong”.

And I think it’s hard to be a simple lover
If the goal’s a cosmic truth.

And I think it’s hard to be a simple friend
If we’re lawyers in the end.

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Humans are natural born cartographers.  We make maps of the world, which we call “beliefs”.   It’s what our species does.

Sometimes, our maps are more or less accurate.  And sometimes, they are fantasy maps, like the ones we made as children to show where a pirate’s treasure lay buried in our backyard.

The accuracy of our maps often matters less to us than the fact they are ours.  Because, for most of us, our maps are something we think of as us.

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I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.  ― Richard Feynman

◊◊◊

“Hullo?”

“Don, this is Paul.  We’re rich!”

“We’re what?”

“Rich, Don, we’re richer than our wildest dreams!”

“Are you kidding me?  What happened?  Did you win the lottery?”

“Lottery?  You can’t depend on lotteries, Don.  This is so much better than a lottery.  This is Big!  Huge!  I’ve had an idea, Don.  An idea!”

“Paul, I have always believed you are capable of having good ideas.  Which is why I am still patiently waiting after all these years for you to actually have one.  But if this is like that last ‘good idea’…”.

“Don’t worry, Don, this one can’t miss.  It’s huge!  What is the number one complaint people have about foods, Don?  The number one complaint?”

“Paul, where is this leading?”

“Don, I’ve been researching this, and nine times out of ten, when people complain about food, it’s because they don’t like the taste.  It’s a scientific fact, Don.  Nine times out of ten!”

“So what?”

“Six words, Don, six words:  Spray-cans filled with liquid nitrogen!  Zap that awful taste right out of your mouth!  Instantly!  Never worry about a bad tasting meal again!

“Don we are going to get rich here!  We are going to get so rich!  I’ve already called some architects, asked for designs on our office building.  Are you excited, Don?

“Don?  Damnit, Don!  You’re a going to have to get a new phone.  Yours keeps dying on me!”

Abuse, Agape, Alienation, Altruism, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Brotherly Love, Christ, Christianity, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Compassion, Cultural Traits, Culture, Ethics, Fairness, Free Spirit, Goals, God, God(s), Happiness, Human Nature, Idealism, Joe, Learning, Life, Love, Meaning, Memes, Morality, Morals, People, Philos, Physical Abuse, Purpose, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Talents and Skills, Values, Yahweh

There are no Weeds

(About a 10 minute read)

Long ago, the Coffee Shop was a hang out for many mildly disaffected youths.  They were the kids who didn’t fit in too well, who weren’t always doing what was expected of them, who often had talents no one had noticed or encouraged, or who were simply marching to the beat of their own drummer.

Kyle, for instance, was the son of a wealthy father, but he wanted to make his own way in the world.  So he had enlisted in the Army to earn money for college rather than allow his father to pay for his education.  He was passionate about poetry and wanted to teach English.

Melanie was from a much poorer family than Kyle, and her only academic interests were mathematics.  She paid for the community college by working as an erotic dancer.

Catherine was another mathematician, and she worried about her social skills.  She graduated early from high school then stayed in town to mature for a year, rather than head straight to college.

Erin was 15 when she left her parent’s house to sleep on friend’s couches.  She did her homework by streetlight for a while.  Then she met Jim, a year or two older, who convinced her school was for losers, and life lay in studying the Kabbalah.

Jody was a bit older than most, and a prostitute fascinated with the Third Reich and Phoenician glassware.  She’d scored high on the aptitude tests, but drugs, along with being raised in an abusive home, were too much for her, and she left unpursued her dream of becoming an historian.

Luke was raised in North Africa and in British boarding schools before his executive father transferred to Colorado.  He planned to leave town soon to study psychology, for he wanted to heal minds.  In the meantime, he was both too well educated and too brilliant for his high school classes.  So, like many other eccentrics, he found his way to the Coffee Shop.

In the mornings, the Shop was full of business people; by midday it held all ages and walks of life; and by evening it was the kids.  One slow Tuesday night I spent a half hour or 45 minutes carefully counting the crowd.  My count was nearly 200, most of them people I’d met, most of them kids, most of them misfits.

If anyone loved them all, it was Joe. He seemed to have a knack for it.

A month or so after we met, Joe invited me to go with him and a couple to Valley View Hot Springs.  It was the way he phrased the invitation that surprised me.  “We need a chaperon”, he said, “There might be trouble.  You’ve got to say, ‘Yes’.”

I couldn’t tell at first how serious he was about trouble.  Joe was 18 that year, strong, and could handle himself. Besides, he knew Valley View was more peaceful than most any other place in Colorado.  He’d been going there with his family since he was five or six.  What kind of trouble did he anticipate?

The trouble was jealousy, Joe explained.  He’d only recently befriended the couple, and he had not caught on to the guy’s jealousy of him.  Thinking everything was cool, he decided to share with them the most spiritual place he knew of.   The girl was so enthusiastic to go to Valley View that the guy feigned agreement, and so Joe and the couple had made plans.  But in the week between making plans and their realization, Joe was shocked when the girl pointed out to him her boyfriend’s jealousy.  That’s when Joe got the notion my presence might somehow defuse the situation.

In the years I knew him, Joe almost never allowed himself to act on any jealously he himself might feel, and I think that might have been because jealousy excludes folks rather than includes them.  Joe was all about including people.  Looking back, it seems almost inevitable Joe would fail to see the boyfriend’s jealousy until it was pointed out to him.

So, the four of us took a day trip to Valley View.  The couple had brought swimsuits, but the guy strangely refused to join his girlfriend, Joe and I in the hot springs.  Instead, he said he wanted to look for elk among the pines and scrub oak, and wandered off.  I left Joe and the girl talking at one end of the pool, and spent most of the time watching dust devils swirl across the valley below.

It was by no means a bad trip, but I think it was the worse Joe and I ever managed to take to Valley View. It seemed none of us got into the spirit of the place.   We left just as divided as we’d arrived.  A few days later, Joe and I discussed it.  After noting how argumentative the guy became on the trip home, Joe said he felt the girl had spent the afternoon at the pool in some kind of bubble; unresponsive to the beauty all around her; unable to connect with nature; indifferent even to the wind through the ponderosa.  “We might as well have gone to the mall”, he grinned.

Joe had been raised a Christian, but a year or two after the trip he committed himself to it.   His inspiration was the New Testament, rather than the Old; the life of Jesus, rather than the Ten Commandments.  Consequently, his first step was to simplify his life.  He gave away his inessential possessions and moved from his parent’s house to a shack.  Mostly, though, he emulated Jesus and the Disciples in his heart and mind.  It became clear the appeal of Christianity to him was its doctrine of universal love — he was, he told me, indifferent to heaven and hell.  Instead, salvation, for Joe, was to learn how to love the world as Christ had.

His experiment with Christianity lasted a couple of years.  When I asked him why he was no longer a Christian, he told me he still believed in God, and perhaps even that Jesus was Christ, but he could not have faith in them so long as people were sent to hell.

Joe worked at a greenhouse.  One day, Joe spoke of his growing distaste for weeding.  “They may be weeds, Paul, but they didn’t ask to be born where they’re not wanted.  It feels terrible to kill them.”  Some part of me agreed with Joe — at least with his notion that all living things have value — but I still felt weeding in a greenhouse was justified by its necessity.  I thought to myself he’d soon enough see that necessity and reconcile himself to killing weeds.

A day later, however, Joe found a partial solution.  He began transplanting the weeds.  At least he began transplanting the larger ones.  He did it on his own time, after work, because he didn’t think it was fair to charge his boss for the extra time it took.  There was a large, bare mound of soil out back of the greenhouse and he was transplanting the weeds to the far side of it, where — he hoped — they would thrive.

I was a bit taken aback.  On the one hand, it ranked among the craziest things I’d heard of a friend doing in some time.  But on the other hand, looked at a little more rationally, it wasn’t self-destructive, it was harmless to others, and it preserved life.  I didn’t think Joe’s project would last — I thought he’d grow tired of it — but I rather admired him for asserting his good convictions in a world where there sometimes seemed to be too few good convictions.

Two months passed before Joe brought the subject up again.  My first reaction was surprise he was still transplanting weeds.  But then he explained his boss had found him out.  Of course, he expected to be fired.  Yet, after he’d told her everything, she’d only laughed and smiled, and told him he was a good worker, that she loved him, and that she would find other work than weeding for him to do.

Something happened one day to make me see symbolic meaning in Joe’s actions.  It began when Laura called to ask if she could come over and take a shower.  She was a homeless kid who kept a few items of clothing at my place and sometimes dropped by for a shower or a meal.  She was heavily into drugs, and I never invited her to stay too long, because I didn’t want my things to start disappearing.

That evening, I got her fed and her feet massaged, and then sent her off to the shower.  She told me she’d been partying, and that after my place, she wanted to go back and party some more.  It wasn’t long, though, before she’d fallen asleep on the couch.   I thought about her while she slept.

Laura was nineteen, and she hadn’t a regular home since she was thirteen.  She’d never met her father, a man who left before she was born.  At thirteen, she’d gotten into a fight with her mother’s boyfriend.  He swung a chair at her.  A leg caught her in the belly and ripped a seven inch wound.  She ran from the house and never returned.

The wound didn’t get sewn up, and the scar was huge.  I’d run my fingers along it once, and somehow the memory of that furrowed, lumpy scar tissue was still stuck in my fingertips.  When I thought of Laura, I always thought of that scar.  And that’s what I was thinking of when Joe’s words came back to me: “They may be weeds, but they didn’t ask to be born where they’re not wanted.”  It was somewhat like a minor epiphany: Joe would understand the tragedy of Laura better than anyone — if for no other reason than Joe had a knack for a certain kind of love.

There is more than one kind of love in this world.  The kind Joe was most interested in is inclusive.   That kind of love does not seek to jealously wall off a little private garden for itself.  It is neither possessive nor jealous, as was the guy at Valley View.  Nor does it demand to be loved in return — for a love that wants love in return must exclude some from being loved. It was the promise of that inclusive kind of love that attracted Joe to Christianity.  It was the realization that some are excluded from God’s love that caused Joe to lose his faith.

I believe it’s rare for most of us — especially when we are young — to think of love as an excellence.  That is, as a thing one might learn how to do to the best of his or her ability.  Instead, we think of love as something requiring little or no talent, practice, or skill.  We suppose it comes natural to us, and so we spend our time waiting for it without doing much to help it come about.

Every kid at the Coffee Shop had his or her own mix of talents and skills, and many of the kids had an excellence.  Kyle, for instance, was a gifted poet.  Melanie and Catherine excelled at mathematics.  And Luke was a born psychologist.  But I think Joe’s excellence was his ability to love.

Sometime ago, Joe moved up into the mountains, where he met a woman and settled in with her.  He lives up there now, in a small mountain town.


Originally posted November 27, 2008

Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Alienation From Self, Art, Artist, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Ethics, Free Spirit, Happiness, Life, Love, Meaning, Morality, Morals, Neil, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Sarah, Self, Sexuality, Spirituality, Values, Wisdom

Neil and the Soul of an Artist

(About a 5 minute read)

Neil was raised in a tiny settlement in the San Luis Valley by artists.  The San Luis — over a mile above sea level, and the largest alpine valley in the world — is Colorado’s poorest region.

Because it’s so poor, the cost of living is moderate, and maybe it’s the cost of living that attracts the artists.  More than 500 working artists make their homes in the Valley.

Yet, because artists are quirky people, it might be more than the cost of living that attracts so many of them to the San Luis.  It could be the miles of open space, for instance.  Or the huge elk herd, the bald eagles and the sandhill cranes.  Or perhaps even the stars — for at night, the sky above the San Luis explodes with the music of light.

Neil’s parents were not religious people but they sent their son to church each Sunday.  When he was 13 or 14, he rebelled.  He told his parents he hated church, didn’t believe a word of anything he heard there, and was a confirmed agnostic.  “Good”, said his mother and father, “You’ve learned everything a church can teach you about life: Nothing.  We could have told you that ourselves about churches, but we wanted you to figure it out.  You can stop going now.”

When Neil turned old enough for high school, his parents decided he needed a better school than the one in the settlement.  So they packed Neil off to live with his grandmother in Colorado Springs and to attend Palmer High.  There, in his first art class, he met Sarah and Beth.  The three shared an intense interest in art and quickly became best friends.

It was Sarah who introduced me to Neil.  Sarah was regular at the Coffee Shop, and the two of us now and then shared each other’s company.  At 16, she was poised, sophisticated, and self-confident.  She liked to flirt with older men, even though she knew, as she put it, that she “couldn’t let it go anywhere”, and she once told me how much I disappointed her because I wouldn’t flirt.  I felt like a killjoy, and wrote a poem about her to make amends.

Sarah, Beth, and Neil spent hours together each day.  They seemed more mature than many kids their age.  For one thing, both Neil and Sarah held themselves much like adults, and all three of them would look you right in the eye when listening or speaking to you.  For another thing, there were seldom conflicts between them, and the three friends were remarkably free from adolescent dramas.

Back in those days, I heard enough adolescent dramas to fill a social calendar.  I had somehow stumbled into the role of confident for many of the kids who hung out at the Coffee Shop.  Sometimes, up to a half-dozen kids a day would confess their woes to me — pretty much one kid after the other.  Yet, I understood their need to talk and never rejected them.

Most of their stories were about sex and relationships, and some of the stories were painful to hear, because there were kids who kept repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Yet, even the kids who didn’t repeat their mistakes — kids like Sarah, for instance — still seemed determined to make an allotted number of foolish mistakes, for how else do people learn?  I quickly discovered the role of confident was often more depressing than rewarding.

Through-out high school, Sarah, Beth and Neil remained as best friends, but when it was time for college, they parted ways.  Each went to a different university, and while Sarah and Beth stayed in contact with each other, Neil dropped out of the group.

I recall Neil was 22 and back from college when I ran across him one evening at the Coffee Shop.  We chatted for a while and I suggested we go to a restaurant for something to eat.

We ordered beer with our food, and were soon rambling along from one topic to the next.  A few beers into the evening, Neil decided to tell me how he lost his virginity.  “Was it Sarah?”, I asked.  I knew she’d been sexually active from the age of 16, and given their close friendship, it seemed logical to suspect her of having been his first partner.

“Not at all”, Neil said, “I wasn’t ready for sex back then, and I knew it.”

“I’m curious how you knew that about yourself.”

“I don’t make really important decisions up here”, he said, pointing to his forehead, “Instead, I go with what my soul tells me.”  He looked at me quizzically.  “Do you believe we have a soul, Paul?”

I didn’t want to sidetrack us into metaphysics, so I said, “I believe I can understand what you’re getting at.  Do you mean something like your sense of yourself…of who you are…of what’s right for you?”

“Yes!  That’s close!  I knew I wasn’t ready for sex because the opportunities never felt right to me.  None of them passed the soul test.  I didn’t want my first time to feel wrong in any way.”

“Was it ever hard waiting?”

“Sometimes.  Everyone else was having sex, and I wanted to have sex.  I was always horny.  It’s not like I wasn’t.”

“So what happened?” At that point, I wanted him to cut to the chase.

“Last year, I finally met the person I knew was right for me.  We met in a bar, but we weren’t drunk, and everything just clicked.  I knew she was the one.”

“Did you have sex that night?”

“No.  I called her on Thursday, a few days later, and we got together that Saturday.  I wasn’t in a hurry.  I knew it was going to happen.  I took her to dinner, and we went to her place afterwards.  That’s when I lost my virginity.  And I was right to wait. I was vindicated.  It was beautiful, Paul.  It felt perfect and it was beautiful.”

“Was it her first time too?”

“Oh no!  She was 26 last year — an older woman, and experienced.”

“Are you two still together?”

“No”, he said, “We never got together as a couple.  That wasn’t something she wanted or I wanted, and we understood that about each other from the start.  We’re friends now, but we’ve only had sex that one time.”

“I’m very proud,” he went on, “that I waited until everything felt right…until I knew it was right.”

“Not many people do that, Neil.”, I remarked, “Did your parents raise you to consult your soul?”  I had a strong suspicion at this point that Neil’s parents, both artists, raised him to pay careful attention to his “soul”.  It seemed like something artists would do naturally — perhaps even do necessarily.

“Very much so.”, Neil said, and he went on about that for a while.  But I wasn’t really following him at that point.

I’d begun to feel the beer and my mind was wandering back to the days when Neil was in high school and I was something of the neighborhood confident for a third of the kids at the Coffee Shop.  Neil had made the decision that was right for him and come out shining.  All in all, his story was one of the best I’d heard then or now, and I felt grateful to him for sharing it with me.


This post was originally published July 7, 2008, and was last updated April 23, 2017 for clarity.

Al, Attila, Brotherly Love, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Community, Cultural Traits, Culture, Education, Ethics, Friends, Giving, Human Nature, Learning, Life, Logic, Meaning, Morals, Obligations to Society, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Society, Teaching, Values

The Gifts of AL Remington

(About a 4 minute read)

It was difficult to beat Al. I think I only did it once. Or, maybe, I didn’t. Maybe I just came close. He was strongest in the endgame.

If you let him get that far — and it was hard not to — he had you beat.

Al said he learned chess when he was in the army, stationed in Greenland, with nothing else to do but his job and learn chess. By the time I met him, he was in his 60s, still enthusiastic about the game, and the man to beat at the Coffee Shop. He was a gentle man, reserved, modest, but exuding an air of dignity and confidence, much like a good father or grandfather. In his 60s, he drove a dark blue Cadillac on wet days and rode a Harley when the sun was out.

One day I discovered the Coffee Shop didn’t purchase the chess sets it had on hand. It was Al who did that. He would search garage sales for abandoned sets, buy them, and bring them to the Shop. He had to do that over and over again because people would loose pieces. But he didn’t mind. It was his hobby.

I think it must have been Al who got “everyone” — at least a third of the regular customers — playing chess. There were always two or three games going back then. Half the regular customers were kids and most of the kids were taught the game by Al. That is, someone else would usually teach them the basic moves — then Al would teach them the art.

Not just the art of chess, but other things too. He taught kids how to win graciously, how to loose without animosity, how to be fair (he’d spot the less skilled players a piece or two), and even how to keep a poker face. He never lost his temper, he was always encouraging, and he taught values. For instance: There wasn’t a kid at the Coffee Shop Al disdained to play, nor one he disrespected.

Several of the adults who hung out at the Shop were uncertain characters, but not Al. One man, Tim, was only there to proselytize the kids for Christ and had no other point in befriending them. Another man, Jeff, in his mid-thirties, was obsessed with getting laid by teens. A third man, who called himself Attila, dressed immaculately, neatly trimmed his white beard, and pretended to have wealth and connections. He would come every day to the Shop with his son, who he’d named Khan, and who was 15 and had lost his spirit. Attila would speak about Khan as if Khan wasn’t present and sitting right next to him: I’ve never in my life heard a more verbally abusive father. Unlike those characters, Al cared for the kids.

Al never told you he liked kids, but he did. He’d surely raised enough of them: Four biological children, two or three adopted children, and a number of foster children. I figure teaching them chess was Al’s way of raising up the Coffee Shop kids. He spoke to me several times of his belief that playing chess developed good, solid thinking skills. But he never quite said he considered himself on a mission to help the Coffee Shop kids. Saying something like that wasn’t Al’s style.

Al died at his home a couple years ago at age 72. I read his obituary to discover he was a minister. He hadn’t spoken of that; had never proselytized me; nor — so far as I know — had he proselytized any of the kids. I guess that wasn’t his style, either. Instead, he just served others.

Nowadays, I drop by the Coffee Shop once or twice a month. The kids Al and I knew have grown up and moved on. No one today plays chess. The adults sit with adults and the kids sit with kids. Maybe that’s the way people feel it should be.

I was reminded of Al earlier today by a comment Ordinary Girl left on another post. She mentioned how adults stay away from kids for fear of being thought creepy. That got me to thinking of how Al, born in 1933, belonged to another generation — one that had a stronger sense of community and wasn’t so set against mixing the ages. Yet, I wonder how kids are supposed to grow up with few adults in their lives?

Are they supposed these days to learn what they need to be a functional adult from Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and advertising? It seems to me we too often leave kids these days to be raised by the media.

Somethings we can only learn from another person. Things we cannot learn from a book, a movie, the television, popular music, or a video game. Somethings we must learn through our interactions with others. And some of those things that can only be learned through our interactions with others are very important. I discovered when I hung out with teens that many teens had what struck me then as a thirst to hang out with adults. I suspect they needed encouragement, insight into themselves, support, and affirmation, among other things. Those are not things we easily get from a book or movie.

Yet, it’s not a one-way street. I believe there can be tremendous benefits for an adult to having kids in his or her life. For one thing, watching a new generation grow up, seeing it go through the same things you once went through, can give you an invaluable perspective on life and a profound acceptance of your own aging.

I’ve come to believe any society which separates the generations will sooner or later pay a price for it. It even seems to me unnatural. I doubt any previous society has headed as far in that direction as ours. And, to me, it is all part of the larger break down of genuine community. It seems our societies are becoming increasingly fragmented, and I am unsure where that will eventually leave us. I rather hope Al’s generation is not the last to mix ages.


Note: Al was a grand- or great grandnephew of Frederic Remington, the painter.