List it!

Pay your bills

On time

Write in your journal

Don’t read mine.

 

Make friends

Treat them well

If they’re worth it

time will tell.

 

Read books

every night

If you won’t

you’re not very bright.

 

Drive carefully

not too fast

People who don’t

are a pain in the ass.

 

Get up

stay strong

when age takes over

don’t wear a thong.

 

Goodbye, now

smile away

this list is done

have a good day.

Advertisements

Crying in the rain

President Obama was scheduled to speak at my alma mater today. But as Hurricane Sandy made it increasingly clear she was up to some very nasty business, Obama canceled his plans and flew back to Washington. I found out about his departure from a young student as I turned into one of the university’s many parking garages. “The president had to go” she told me. “Romney’s campaign would’ve bad mouthed him if he didn’t.”

Now I have no way of knowing if this would have been Mitt Romney’s response had the president gone ahead with his speech before flying back to the capital. But it wouldn’t have surprised me because for the past four years, I’ve heard again and again how Mr. Obama does nothing but play golf, go on the Letterman Show, vacation in Hawaii, take his dog for a walk, ad nauseum.  Of course,  those keeping score need only look at the record to find that George W. Bush took 1,020 vacation days during his eight years in office, more than any U.S. President since Herbert Hoover. But I don’t really give a damn whether it was Mr. Bush or JFK who took all that “time off.” First of all, when you’re president, you’re never really on vacation; the briefings don’t stop and the Secret Service is ever present. In addition, presidents need their days off. Relaxation is key to handling stress. The better rested a president, the better his/her decision making skills. That being said, I don’t recall anyone in the Republican party bemoaning the fact that Mr. Bush spent so many days at his Texas ranch. Yet the moment President Obama steps onto a putting green, vast platoons of Chicken Littles start screaming that the sky is falling.

I was reminded of this today when a friend pointed out that the president spent too much money flying to Florida last night, especially if it was just to make a stop at the local campaign headquarters. Instead, the argument went, Mr. Obama shouldn’t have left D.C. at all because the forecast for Hurricane Sandy was already dire, so why wait to cancel his stump speech until this morning? The truth is I really don’t know. I am not privy to Mr. Obama’s itinerary.  He could have had private business in Florida that made it necessary for him to be here. Another thing—I really don’t care. So what if Obama waited until today? A president can issue orders from wherever he or she is. He doesn’t need to be in Washington to declare a city or state a disaster area or to send out the National Guard. But that’s not really the issue, is it? No. Because even if President Obama had the magical power to dissipate the storm, there would still be people in the GOP complaining.

I’m sick of this. I’m sick of the Right finding nothing positive to say about our president. No matter what he does, it’s wrong. He could give Republicans  everything they ever wanted and it still wouldn’t matter. We would still hear cries of “commie,” “socialist,” “he’s not an American,” and on and on. The facts mean nothing. Why even bother to look them up when FOX News tells you every single report from any other source is a lie. That’s right. Every media outlet sans FOX is in on the conspiracy. I’m not exactly sure what the conspiracy is but they’re in on it.

Notice I haven’t “played the race card” yet. Well, allow me to shuffle my deck. Not every caucasian who votes for Mitt Romney is a racist. Not every white person who dislikes Obama is a racist. But make no mistake—racism has reared its ugly head in the four years of Mr. Obama’s presidency. People who aren’t racist don’t turn up at political rallies in white face. They don’t carry around signs that read “put the white back in the White House.” They don’t accuse honorable statesmen and decorated military officers like Colin Powell of endorsing the president  because both men are black as John Sununu did the other day.

The ugliness is astounding. And it’s gotten damn scary. Two weeks ago a stranger actually followed me home and confronted me in front of my house because I had an Obama 2012 bumper sticker on my car. He shouted and cursed at me from his truck before revving his engine multiple times and driving away. Would this guy have done that had the president been white? I seriously doubt it. And yes, I know there are Democrats who are stealing Romney signs from front yards and that’s rotten. But just once when I share my story with a member of the opposite party, I’d like to hear “I’m really sorry,” without the added, “but your side does it, too.” That kind of “back and forth” helps no one.

I’ll be glad when this election is over. Glad when I no longer see folks bragging about how many people they “unfriended” on Facebook over political differences. Glad when the name calling will at least settle down (I’m not naïve enough to think it will go away). But I’m worried. So worried about the United States. Because our states are anything but united and I don’t see that changing any time soon, no matter who wins the presidency. Over the weekend columnist Andrew Sullivan observed that we are in the midst of a cold Civil War. I agree. Except there’s nothing civil about it.

A sad game of chicken

How proud former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee must feel. His “Chick-Fil-A angry chickenAppreciation Day,” turned into record sales for the fast food company. Supporters of the chain and its president, Dan Cathy, have also been flocking to Facebook to tout their love of all things chick-filleted. The thrust of their comments usually goes something like this: “I just ate at Chick-Fil-A and stood up for Christian values and freedom of speech.”

Well, bully for you.  But you just don’t get it.

The outcry over Cathy’s stance against gay marriage isn’t about freedom of speech. Cathy can say whatever he likes about the issue. That’s his constitutional right. If he finds gay marriage abhorrent due to his religious beliefs, he has the freedom to express that opinion.  And while I find his take on homosexuality troubling, it’s not nearly as troubling as the hoards of people who felt driven to rush out and buy a sandwich to show their support for a homophobe. Because let’s face it—that’s what this was all about. It wasn’t, as Mike Huckabee said, an effort to defend a business from Americans who “don’t like [Christian] voices.” Absurd. Travel a mile in any direction in this country and you’ll find a Christian church. America is predominately made up of Christians, so don’t give me this bullshit about how poor Christians are being oppressed.

However, Huckabee’s words bring up an interesting point. Just what is the Christian voice? The long held view, that same sex marriage is a sin, is changing. The Episcopal Church has approved blessings for same sex couples. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has allowed openly gay men and women in same sex relationships to become ordained ministers. I am not suggesting that these decisions have been easy to make–the differences of theological interpretation on homosexuality have split apart the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches.  Fundamentalist congregants believe that homosexuality is a sin in the same way the Vatican does, in the same way Dan Cathy does. But these differences of biblical interpretation reflect that there is no Christian “party line.” There are many Christian viewpoints, depending on the denomination, the church, or the individual you ask.

Listening to Cathy say that he hopes God will have mercy on those who “have the audacity to define what marriage is all about,” you would think his is the only true Christianity despite a variety of Christian attitudes on the subject. Seems to me Cathy’s pretty audacious in making that claim. Just who does he think he is, anyway? God?

When someone places himself (or herself) upon a pedestal of piety, looking down on all of those who don’t believe the same way, he’s asking for criticism. And that’s what Cathy got. Gay rights groups spoke out about his judgmental views and they had every right to do so. Just as they have every right to boycott Chick Fil-A because they don’t want to support a company who is anti-gay and donates money to hate groups like the Family Research Council.

Hate. That’s the crux of this issue. Ask yourself: do you really think that all those people who stood in line at Chick-Fil-A to show their “appreciation” would have done so had the tables been turned? If it was the gay community showing its support because Cathy endorsed gay marriage? No way.  What we have are sections of America so repelled by homosexuality that they will band together in greasy fast food franchises for some sort of perverse communion to make themselves feel better about their prejudices.

A friend of mine wondered how all the gay children, whose parents attended the chicken party, might feel. Good question. Not a great message of compassion, is it?  In fact, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day was a downright cruel and unfeeling demonstration, showing not a whit of caring for anyone who might face the challenge of being gay in such an unwelcoming environment.

And what about that guy these so-called Christians all claim to follow? Who told us to love one another? Had he been around, I have a hunch he would have bypassed Chick-Fil-A and gone for sushi.

Goodbye, again

Life is full of goodbyes, so many of them. Too many.

When I was a young idealist, I thought anything was doable, was possible. You could help anyone who wanted to be helped.

Now that I’m older, I realize how impossible that all is. It would be wonderful indeed if, to paraphrase Lennon and McCartney, all you needed was love, but sometimes love just isn’t enough.

I lost a friend today. She wasn’t a close friend and hadn’t been for a while. Maybe ever. The truth is I had grown uncomfortable around her over the years.*

*For the purposes of this blog and to protect her family, I’ll call my late friend, Meghan.

Meghan suffered cruel storms inside her head. Through the years the suffering grew worse and was so painful to watch that friends and acquaintances began to keep her at a distance. I admit I was one of those people. I didn’t know how to help Meghan; her troubles were like a whirlwind that threatened to swallow up anyone who came too close. The last time I talked to her she was in a psychiatric unit, desperate to get out. She’d attempted suicide and survived but the terrible injuries she endured as a result only deepened her depression. A hopelessness settled in and stayed.

There had been better times. Times when Meghan danced to her beloved jazz music and spoke with delight about her passion for the humanities. She had a keen eye and always had something original to say about a painting, a sculpture or a film. But as the better days faded away, it seemed as if her big, kind heart was just too heavy for her to carry. The pain seized control and Meghan’s speech grew staccato, like rapid bullet fire, her thoughts racing so quickly ahead she could barely keep up. Meghan’s life had become a burden to her, not a gift.

And so, she’s gone. It’s too easy, too convenient to say she’s at peace now. But I do. I hope Meghan’s found the quiet her mind never gave her in this living world. But I’m just so sad she had to go through all she did to get it.

 

Stick a fork in it!

I love entertaining, giving parties, cooking for friends. Making a meal for someone is a creative, personal gesture. Using your hands to pat, mold, shake, stir and bake food for your guests to ingest is, well, a downright intimate act. And one to take seriously. Of course, not everyone does as I was reminded when I read an article in the New York Times about the challenges of cooking for those with dietary restrictions.

I understand that it can be a pain to modify a menu for dinner guests. But that’s what you do for guests, right? I’ll never forget the time I went to a girlfriend’s house for dinner. I had told her beforehand that I didn’t eat red meat. Halfway through a meal of elaborately concocted turkey and vegetable wraps, I discovered that she had snuck thin slices of pork into the mix. Later she bragged about fooling her vegetarian-leaning friends this way because she thought their dietary preferences were “ridiculous.”

Rude, right? But not just rude. It’s reckless to serve a dinner guest a food s/he chooses not (based on moral or religious beliefs) or cannot (due to allergies and health reasons) eat. I remember one Christmas when I presented a neighbor with a plate of cookies. I was feeling pretty good about my gift until my neighbor spit out the bourbon ball she had almost swallowed. Not knowing her that well, I had forgotten that she was a recovering alcoholic.  I felt terrible. She was forgiving but the memory has stayed with me for years. Same goes for the time I served an acquaintance (who later became a dear friend) a dessert made with regular white flour. I had overlooked the fact that she was allergic to gluten. Not good.

I’m much better about noting—and remembering—the food preferences and/or intolerances of my friends now. I’ve learned their food restrictions are a lot more than just “picky eating.” When one of my favorite couples came to dinner recently, I made two meals—fish for her (the only animal protein she would eat) and chicken for him. I didn’t serve nuts either as both were allergic and I didn’t want to send them to the hospital.

So, I try. But to intentionally serve a guest one of their forbidden foods as my girlfriend had not only done but delighted in doing? The word, “sadistic,” comes to mind. Needless to say, I didn’t share many meals with her after that stunt.

A few years ago, I heard she adopted a couple of kids. I sure hope they don’t have any food allergies.

Buy the book (Part V in a series)

Time now for another installment about the trials and tribulations of working at an independent bookstore.

Party night in the neighborhood. Shop owners throw open their doors, set out hors d’oeuvres (well, chips and salsa) and stay open late to entice passersby to spend money. I’ve come in early to help Teri set up the bar. A DJ who goes by the name, Pisces (guess he’s water sign), is fiddling with his turntable in a corner of the store, sound checking a hit parade of eighties bands—Depeche Mode, Eurhythmics, The Fixx.

Teri and I have just finished cramming bottles of Heineken and Michelob into the ice bin when a young woman with pink hair teeters towards us on silver stilettos (their heels the width of a toothpick).

“Hi, I’m Bethany,” Ms. Toothpick Totterer says, offering us a sparkly hand (her silver nail polish matches the shoes, of course). “Is there anyone who can help me bring in my paintings? They’re pretty big.”

Our manager told us an artist would be exhibiting here tonight. But she’s just now arriving? (The bookstore often features the work of local visual artists but they usually give themselves more than thirty minutes to hang their creations.)

Teri obliges (thank God) and a few minutes later she and Ms. Too Tot carry in two gargantuan paintings. Where the hell are we going to put these?

“Uh, we’re going to have to rearrange some things to give you enough wall space for those,” I say.

“ Oh. I have more,” Ms. Too Tot informs us. “Is that a problem?”

I can practically see smoke rising from the top of Teri’s head.

“How many more?” I ask.

“Oh, about…” Ms. Too Tot pauses to count on her silvery fingers. “Five. I hope that’s okay. They’re not as big as these, well, at least two aren’t.”

Oh, gee. How helpful! Teri trudges back outside to Ms. Too Tot’s borrowed truck as I (panic, don’t panic) try to tear down publicity posters for upcoming book signings without destroying them. Oblivious, Pisces cranks up the volume on the eighties and the first trickle of party guests heads for the bar.

“Uh, Pat? Where do you think we should put this?”

I turn around and there’s Teri with a canvas about the size of a coffin propped against her hip.

Damn you, Ms. Too Tot!

***

“Can I get a glass of Pinot”

“Pardon?” I ask. Pisces has got the music so loud—Tears for Fears is in heavy rotation—I can’t hear the orders over the bar unless the customers shout.

“Pinot!” the customer—a guy with a red beard and matching underarm hair (a tank top, really?)–yells.

“Pinot what? Pinot Noir? Pinot Grigio?”

“Pinot Noir!” Red Beard is obviously incensed. “Do I look like a white wine drinker?”

No. You look like an asshole. I hand him his glass of color coordinated wine. What is this, theme night for matching colors?

“When is Carrie going to get here?” Teri asks. “Someone has got to cover the book counter.” (Oh yeah, the books! We’re a bookstore. In all of the party-on frenzy, it was easy to forget.)

"Hey. EXCUSE ME.” It’s Red Beard again, this time, waving a copy of Atlas Shrugged. “I wanna buy this.”

“I’ll get it.” Teri winks. “Even though I don’t wanna to.”

***

With Carrie—one of our part-time employees—finally arriving to anchor the book register, Teri and I can downshift a bit. Heading for a bathroom break, I pause to look at a couple of Ms. Too Tot’s oversized paintings. Picasso she is not. It looks as if Ms. Too Tot has thrown a bucket of paint, the color of an old bottle of Copper Tone suntan lotion, across the canvas. Then to brighten things up, she’s outlined the edges of the Copper Tone splotches with a peach hued pastel pencil.

“I was scared that one wouldn’t be ready in time.” Ms. Too Tot stands beside me, sipping a glass of blush wine. “I had to use the blow dryer on it and it took, like, forever.”

I look at Copper Tone more closely and see little cracks in the paint. One more reason it’s not a good idea to use the “high heat” setting on a blow dryer.

“How long have you been painting?”

Doing the numbers in her head this time, Ms. Too Tot says, “Oh, a long time. About a year and a half.”

I realize time is relative to us all but a year and six months is a “long time?” Seriously?

“So, what do you think?” Oh God. Didn’t someone tell Ms. Too Tot she wasn’t supposed to ask that question?

“Well, uh, it’s hard to put into words.”

“Oh, isn’t all good art like that? Whoops, I guess I shouldn’t brag,” Ms. Too Tot giggles.

About that time—hallelujah!—a big boned woman with a giant Celtic cross dangling between her Jayne Mansfield sized breasts grabs Ms. Too Tot by the arm and drags her off to the bar.

Wow. “Good art?” Poor Ms. Too Tot. Not only is she a terrible painter, she’s delusional. Before I continue on to the bathroom, a white sticker on the wall next to the painting catches my eye. $3000, the price tag reads. I adjust my glasses. Three thousand dollars? She’ll be lucky to get 300, even 30 dollars, hell, anything at all for this piece of Copper Toned crap. Ms. Too Tot has clearly spent too much time in the sun.

***

Back at the bar, guests are getting drunk.

“HEY!”

Red Beard is back.

“Pour my buddy Frenchy here a glass of merlot.”

A squat bald guy with a mustache so long it nearly tickles his teeth stands next to Red Beard.

I hand “Frenchy” his glass of wine.“Merci,” he says and wiggles his thick black eyebrows at me a la Groucho Marx.

(The second theme of the night appears to be facial hair.)

“French Fry’s from Paris,” shouts Red Beard. “And you know what they say about Paris?”

I look over at Teri. “Uh-oh. He’s going to tell us.”

Red Beard takes a swig of his wine, girding himself to impart his extensive knowledge. “Paris is a city in France!” Red Beard whoops and hollers and chugs the rest of his Pinot Noir.

“Oui, oui,” cries “Groucho,” placing his glass on the bar.

“More wine?” I ask.

“Oui, oui,” he grins.

What time is it?” I ask Teri.

Groucho wiggles his eyebrows at her.

“Not late enough.”

***

“Fly Me to the Moon,” cries Red Beard watching Groucho dance with Ms. Big Bones, her crucifix bouncing from one silicone twin to the other.

“Fly me to the moon,” Teri says. “You’d think he’d take the hint.”

We’d been trying to close for more than an hour. Aquarius, I mean Pisces, has already packed up his equipment and gone. Carrie left after shutting down the book register and Ms. Too Tot has wobbled off, leaving Copper Tone and their mates on exhibit through the weekend.

“Take me down to Moon River,” Red Beard warbles. French Fry and the Silicone Sisters shimmy over to us and FF ends their dance by flinging his left leg over the bar.

“Okay, that’s it,” Teri says. “We’re closing.”

“Huh?” Red Beard is, once again, not amused.

“Yeah, we’ve got to go home. Sorry.”

“Come on, Francois, this bourgeois joint is shutting down.”

“Oui, oui, says FF, and out he goes, followed closely by the twins.

“You know,” Red Beard pauses on his way out. “In Paris the cafes stay open all night.”

“Well, then,” Teri says, “perhaps you should go there.” 

She closes and locks the door.

“Au revoir,” Teri waves.

The party’s over.

***

Neither a borrower, a lender (nor a bully) be

 

She said good days ain’t got no rain

She said bad days are when I lie in bed

and think of things that might have been.

~Paul Simon

 

I don’t remember what the disagreement was about. It wasn’t even an argument, just three fifteen year old girls talking after gym class. There was Maxi—open and popular, knowing when to show her cards or hold them close. She usually had aces until later on when the drugs took hold (but she made it through). Mel didn’t have aces but she took what she could get. That day it was drama. About a boy—what else? Mel had had him and now she didn’t. But she wanted to tell us that it was more than that, more complex, and of course, it was. Because life usually is.

Mel told her story from a place of deep focus that was in high contrast to the soft spring day around us.  But she held Maxi’s attention, and mine, to a point. I had arrived late to the conversation and didn’t yet understand what the sorrow was all about. I mean, why so serious?

My insights on the matter of Mel’s failed romance lacked gravitas but I offered an opinion anyway and hoped for a little levity. Instead, without warning, Mel reached out and struck me in my left breast. I say “struck” but “slugged” is more like it. The feeling wasn’t unlike the time when, as a child, I had maneuvered the wrong way around my mother’s new coffee table and tripped, belly flopping against its side.

“Got the wind knocked out of you,” my dad told me as I gasped for air that threatened to come a terrifying second too late. “You’ll be okay.” And as dads often are, he was right.

But Mel’s fist against my breast was even more of a surprise than the result of that long ago afternoon tumble. I didn’t see Mel’s fist coming because I didn’t know I was falling.

“Uh…ha.” Maxi’s uncomfortable laugh brought me back to myself. A response was required but all I could do was look at Maxi in the way one does when seeking rescue from acute embarrassment. This was the the moment for me to stand up. To look Mel in the eye and let her know she had crossed the line.

Instead I filled my mouth, still gaping wide, with my own awkward chuckle and didn’t do a damn thing.

Looking back, I realize that worse than the act of physical violence was Mel’s cool self-assurance that there would be no negative repercussions. Mel knew I wouldn’t protest because she recognized bone deep approval seeking when she saw it. And as was the tradition of all doormats, I had lain down in the dirt and allowed her not just to wipe her feet but to kick me when she was finished.

I was reminded of this the other day while searching eBay, hoping to find an album my sisters used to play when I was a kid. It was the era of acoustic Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary. But I was looking for a group far less well known—the Chad Mitchell Trio. The trio had gone through various incarnations (Jim McGuinn aka Roger McGuinn who later founded the Byrds, played banjo for the trio; and John Denver replaced Chad Mitchell, namesake of the group, before he eventually left to pursue his solo career) but it was the early days of the CMT I preferred. Particularly, their Best of 1963 collection which was interspersed with live and studio recordings. I loved that album and, along with listening to it, Peter, Paul and Mary and Meet the Beatles, learned to sing. When my sisters left home to find careers in a bigger city, I inherited the CMT album (along with some first edition Elvis Presley and Everly Brothers 45s) and I tossed aside my Popeye the Sailor Man discs and began my first real music collection.

Chad Mitchel Trio album coverAfternoons when I got home from school, I threw the trio on the hi-fi, singing along to songs about the John Birch Society and Billie Sol Estes*. Now I had no clue that these songs were political satire but I learned the lyrics and and sang with conviction (I credit the trio for subliminally making me the proud liberal I am today). But there was more than just jabs at current events on the record. The lovely 19th century Irish folk ballad, Green Grow the Lilacs, Woody Guthrie’s Great Historical Bum and even a square dance song—Hello Susan Brown—provided me with hours to flex my vocal chords and pique my growing interest in all things lyrical. So it was with a special mixture of carelessness, naïve trust, and stupidity that not quite a decade later I loaned this prized possession to a girlfriend who hoped to expand her repertoire as an up and coming singer/ piano player. You guessed correctly. It was Mel, or as I fondly remember her, Slugger.

*Billy Sol Estes was a businessman from Abilene who went to prison for bilking millions of dollars from Texas finance companies and farmers by conning them into paying for nonexistent tanks of fertilizer. This wasn’t particularly happy news for his friend Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson when Congress held investigative hearings about the scheme.

Now I honestly don’t recall if I allowed Mel to borrow the CMT album before or after her fist made contact with my left breast but I admit it could have been afterwards. I was gullible and anyway, forget and forgive, right? The times they had-a-changed, and Mel left my house also carrying with her the hackneyed Doors’ album, The Soft Parade, Spirit’s debut record , and Grand Funk Live (one of my adolescent blips on the good taste screen). Chad and the boys didn’t quite fit with the rest of the hard rock crew but I liked to think of myself as a rock music aficionado with eclectic tastes.

Mel assured me she would get the records back to me the next weekend.

“That’s okay,” I told her, maintaining my role as suck-up, “take your time.”

And she did. About four years worth.

***

It was on a visit to my mom those four years later that I decided to get in touch with Mel and retrieve my records. I’d been in my old room, looking through belongings I had left behind while I attended college. Just like my sisters, I had abandoned those things I felt I had outgrown. But as I flipped through what remained of my orphaned music collection, I realized I missed my Doors album and especially the Chad Mitchell Trio. I looked up Mel’s name in the phone book, took a deep breath and dialed her number.

“Hello?” Mel’s voice sounded the same.

“Hi, Mel. This is a friend from your past,” I joked, trying to keep it light. After spending a minute catching up–married? Kids? How’s school going—I got to the point.

“Mel, remember those records I loaned you before we graduated? I’d really like them back. Could I come over and get them?”

“Records? I don’t remember…”

“You know that Doors album and—“

“Oh yeah. Well (heavy sigh), I’ll have to look around for them. I just moved, ya know.”

Uh, no, I didn’t know. Why would I?

“I’d really like them back,” I persisted (you’re doing great, I told myself, keep it up).

Okay. I’ll be home Friday night.”

She gave me her address then added, “It will be good to see you.” Really? Wow. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

***

Dressed in my new black cords and ribbed Steel blue shirt, I sat on Mel’s couch. Her boyfriend and a couple of her teenaged cousins were there. The television was blaring some stupid sitcom and Mel was laughing and carrying on, enjoying being the center of attention. But mostly she enjoyed ignoring me.

After an appropriate amount of time had passed, I asked for my records.

“Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ll get them,” Mel said sinking further into her recliner and starting up a new round of laughter with her cousins

An hour went by.

“Uh, Mel. I’ve got to get going. I really need to get my records.”

“Oh, all right.” Clearly put out, Mel pushed herself out of her comfy chair and headed for what I assumed was her bedroom. A minute later she emerged holding some worn looking albums.

She handed me the stack. “Thanks, Mel!” I was so relieved. There was my Doors album right on top. I glanced through them—Grand Funk was there and Spirit but wait a minute—where was the Chad Mitchell Trio?

Mel was back in her recliner, smoking a Marlboro, focused on her “real” company.

“Mel?”

“Yeah, yeah, just a second. I want to see this part of the show.”

And so I sat for another fifteen minutes. Finally the program ended. Mel reached for the TV Guide.

“Hey, Mel. I think there’s a record missing.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, my Chad Mitchell Trio album—“

Not even looking in my direction Mel shrugged. “Oh, probably. I don’t know where it is. Somewhere around here.”

“Well, can you get it?”

“Oh, its just too much of a hassle. It’s in a box somewhere.”

I didn’t yet know what passive aggression was but my gut told me that it wasn’t unlike that day when Mel had slugged me on the tennis court. Only this time it was something more underhanded.

My corduroy pants began to feel much too tight. It didn’t make sense. Not when I was feeling so small.

I had to go home. I couldn’t wait to get out of those cords.

“I’m taking off,” I told Mel and stood up. “Thanks for the albums.”

Mel stayed put in her recliner. “Yeah, well, maybe I’ll find the other record and give you a call.”

“Okay, that would be great. Bye, Mel. Thanks, again.”

I think she said goodbye but I don’t remember. I just wanted to get back to my mother’s house so I could rip off my cords and take a shower. It wasn’t until I was in bed that I allowed myself to face what I had realized as I sat paralyzed on Mel’s couch: Not only had Mel known exactly where the CMT record was but I had once again failed to stand up to her. To stand up to a bully. And more importantly, to stand up for myself.

***

A few years ago, visiting a friend up north, I found the 1963 CMT album in a local library. My friend checked it out for me and we made a copy. It’s barely listenable due to all of the skips, scratches, and bumps from who knows how many years of wear and tear. I’ve since been able to download a few individual songs from the internet but the album in its entirety remains out of print and apparently has never been converted to a digital format.

I don’t always think of Mel when I listen to those old folk songs. But music can spark memories like little else can so she occasionally comes to mind. For a long time I’ve imagined myself reacting differently on the tennis court that day. At times I wish I had hit her back or at the very least, told her to back off. What is it they say about standing up to a bully? The bully often backs down (I have since learned, sadly, that this is not always the case). Would Mel have backed down? But another question comes to mind. If I had stood up to Mel that spring day, would she have, four years later, still refused to give me my CMT album? Would I have even loaned those records to her? I might have gained much more insight into her character—and mine—had I stood my ground. All of those (mostly) fruitless internet searches would have been unnecessary because I would still have that album.

Yeah, I know, the proverbial “what if?” But it was a lesson that the actions we take—or don’t take—even as kids—can create a mold that’s harder to break as we grow older. I like to think I’ve learned well how to assert myself since those experiences with Mel. But I wonder. If I had stood up on that tennis court all those years ago, maybe it would be just a little bit easier now.