(collection of past Homepage greetings and stories)
November 3, 2004   -to-   
February 22, 2005

November 5, 2004  About the Election

With the election results I took a kick in the gut like many of you did and I reeled for a time, wondering how in the world we could go on as a nation with any integrity or sense of brotherhood with the rest of the world. But I've walked many, many miles since then, clearing and transmuting some of my disappointment and I am starting to feel much less despair and a little more humor. We all need to do some healthy laughing if we're going to get through this time. So I've composed a silly rambling about one of my real-life adventures to help you get started again. I wish you well and I hope you're taking lots of deep breaths. ~ MT

November 7, 2004

Howdy my fine, leaf-blowin' friends,

Man! It's tough work coming up with a seasonal greeting that I haven't used before. I almost opened with; "my shaky, punkin' carvin' friends," or "my attractive sweater wearin' pals." But I have no idea if any of you coffee achievers carve punkins or if the rest of you look snappy in sweaters. (some people look hideous in knits! - but not me) I do know for certain that just about everybody who loves my music owns at least one gas powered leaf blower, so I guess it's a safe salutation. And anyway, it's a subject dear to my heart - I come so alive when I'm revving one of those marvelous contraptions up full throttle at 5:00 a.m., cackling like a hyena and blowing rocks and hubcaps and squirrels and stuff all over the dang place. Boy Howdy! It's a spectacular autumn thrill!

Recently, in my monthly rambling, I told you a sweet romantic story about mailing autumn leaves to my girlfriend. Several women from around the country - unless there's a man named Tami out there somewhere - wrote to gush and say, "Finally! A rambling from the Michael we know and love!" I was surprised because I'd thought it was me all along. The most common response I received from those in the we-like-it-this-way camp, was; "It's so much more like the real you!" I think they meant "it reminds me of the guy singing on your CDs." And perhaps they are right, maybe they perceive the real me better than I do. Could it possibly be true that after decades of relentlessly searching I have accidentally stumbled smack-dab into my own genuine self? It's a humbling thought but I'm gonna go with it. From this foggy day forward, my slobberin', punkin' pie eatin' friends, the more-like-the-real-m me is the the me you are going to get. I'm serious as rock in the spaghetti sauce, from this day hence I will write about the events of my life faithfully, accurately, bezackly as they occur; no artistic license; no slight exaggeration for the sake of humor; no just plain makin' stuff up so it will sound like I have a life. Let us begin, my sputterin', apple bobbin' friends . . .

Last night, as I was replacing light bulbs in high wind at the top of a radio tower (nobody asked me to, I just didn't like the color), I thought to myself: I really should not have climbed up here in this flimsy Halloween costume - particularly, while wearing large rubber monster feet. What if I meet a mugger and have to scurry back down? But then it occurred to me that no mugger is going to lie in wait atop a 500 foot antenna to steal a wallet from a man dressed as a ballerina. (I know, I know, the rubber feet were completely inappropriate, I was just embarrassed to ask the sales girl for a pair of ballet slippers)

 Once I had attained the narrow apex of the antenna, it took me an interminably long time to begin to replace bulbs - mostly because I hadn't counted on seagulls being attracted to the sheen of my taffeta tutu. "Git back, dammit!" (I never did like that damn Jonathan Livingston Seagull movie) I finally managed to get the first bulb out and screw in a new one only to find that it was a dud. Like a cheap string of Christmas tree lights, every bulb on the tower went dark and my concern over muggers escalated into panic that some low-flying 747 would suck me into one of it's engines. Chuckling at the grizzly thought, I hurriedly screwed in another bulb but the tower remained unlit. I looked back to earth. Uh-oh. Not only did all the tower lights go out, the entire south side of Queen Anne Hill had gone dark. Surely, the neighborhood was not wired in series with the tower! I tried to peer inside the socket to see if something was blocking contact but I could see nothing.

 I clung to the narrow metal ladder, cursing screaming seagulls and lunging at them with my chin. I wished like hell that I hadn't been eating popcorn balls earlier, because the sticky syrup on my face, hands, torso and groin area seemed to be what was attracting the noisy sea birds. My hands occupied with various light bulbs, I held to the cold rungs with the crooks of my arms while one rubber monster foot was wrapped precariously around a slippery side rail. Where was my other foot? I squinted down into the total darkness and could not see it but then heard it whisking in the air off to the side, it was sprinting rapidly in the dark abyss, obeying the tiny part of my subconscious not easily overriden by my huge ego. It was nothing if not impressive. Man, that leg could go! Had I been in an ass-kicking contest with one-legged men, I felt confident I'd have easily dominated.

 I was too frightened to attempt a descent in the darkness with the one leg wrapped around the ladder and the other sprinting to beat the band. Even if I was to somehow make my way safely back to the ground, I certainly didn't want to read in the paper the next morning that the Hooters Family Restaurant Blimp had been deflated by an unlit radio tower. Yet, I couldn't remain there all night, striking my Bic lighter and bellowing out warnings to approaching aircraft. I had to somehow get that tower lit again. Having three limbs predisposed and one jogging like the dickens out in empty space, I had no choice but to buck up my courage and poke my tongue into the socket and feel around for anything blocking it.

I don't really recall feeling around in there. Almost immediately though, I understood that it had to be the bulb that was defective and that the socket was fine and dandy. How did I know this? Well, it had to do with a little understood scientific phenomenon called electrocution! For several dazzling minutes (or lifetimes - I'm not sure which) my body flew straight out sideways from the tower, like wet longjohns frozen in a blue norther. I was tenuously connected to earth only by the voltage that welded my tongue to the socket. My hair stood on end and my brain sizzled, my eyes bugged and (to my delight) Viagra was spectacularly unnecessary. Visions exploded before me of countless vibrant scenes from my boyhood; all frighteningly vivid and portraying, to my horror, numerous tiny wrongs I had committed upon others.

 For instance: I saw my former ten-year-old self getting caught sticking a delicious pineapple fried pie down my pants at Furr's Grocery Store and darting like a panicked jackrabbit between baskets and out the front door; the store manager chasing me furiously up 6th Street and screaming profanities such as my tender ears had never before heard. I do believe I was psychologically damaged because to this day, when someone calls me a "worthless, little shit-ass!", I tear up.

 The fried pie scene transmogrified into a certain lunchtime in third grade when, while giggling so hard I'd nearly wet my stiff Husky jeans, I heavily salted a schoolmate's cherry jello - and my teacher, who witnessed it all, stood scowling over me and made me eat every last salty bite of it; my young, veiny eyes watering at the brine and my blood pressure surging like a middle aged man's. Again, I am haunted to this day; I can salt many people's desserts - and do - but never jello.

 While reliving these hellish memories - and continuing to dance horizontally with the redhot surge of voltage - my mind shot many years forward to a summer evening in 1973 when, while attempting to seamlessly flip Dark Side of the Moon to Side-Two - so as to not break the mesmerizing spell of Side-One - I slipped on a Ding Dong wrapper and shattered my roommate's cherished waterbong. Unfortunately, the water had not been changed in months and a fair amount of it sloshed onto the brownies. I blamed it all on the dog and have grieved it all these years. Inexplicably, I can still eat brownies, no problem.

Had not something completely unforeseen happened in the midst of my electrocution, I most likely would have remained there observing my past misdeeds, stiff as a frozen flag, sizzling with electrical current  and as tumescent as any man could ever pray for. But something miraculous occurred that interrupted the charge and halted the madness; I don't know if you'd call it Divine intervention or what, but someone bulky appeared out of the darkness and reached out with a wooden stick and hooked my ankle, tugging me away from the live socket and securing me firmly about the waist with a heavily muscled arm. I was a heaving, flopping, squawking mass of raw nerves by then. Absolutely certain that I was doomed to crash to the ground, I wailed like an infant for my life. At first it didn't register with me that I had been saved. Then, when I actually realized I was not falling to my death, I let go an eardrum-shattering Yippee! I repeated it over and over, rapid-fire at toe-curling pitch; "Yippeeeee - yippeeeeee - yippeeeeee!" But then the tower lights came back on and I saw who it was that had saved me. "Yipp-whaaaaaa?!"  My voice faltered and I nearly fainted in astonishment. No way, dude! I rubbed my obviously lyin' eyes and looked again - how could it be?

 My friends, this part is not easy for me to talk about. I feel foolish and unworthy. I want to tell you who it was that rescued me but I'm afraid you won't believe me, that you'll laugh derisively at me and try to make me go on Dr. Phil. But I must be strong, I've sworn to tell you the truth so I must. (deep breath) I was saved. . . I was saved by. . . by. . . oh dammit, I was rescued by the Governator! Yes, Ahnold saved my tutu wearing, electri-fried ass! Apparently, he was up from Colleefawnia and out climbing stuff with his famous maple branch in his teeth when he thudded into me in the dark. From what I could tell he was as shocked as I was, not literally, but he certainly hadn't counted on running into anybody up there.

His publicist on the ground below, keeping the limo warm and wishing for some great Ahnold-enhancing news event, looked up and was startled to discover the Governator retrieving a damsel in distress. Seizing this sterling opportunity for publicity, he'd flipped his little phone open, hit automatic dial, and before we could reach the earth there was a frantic cluster of paparazzi and tv news crews flashing spotlights and cameras at us. As we descended from the sky and grew more discernible in the blinding explosions, the publicist actually shrieked when he saw that it was no damsel Ahnold was carrying, but a grinning Texan in a taffeta tutu and rubber monster feet. He noted only peripherally that one leg was rapidly fanning the air. Hmm. This would certainly not make good press for a man lobbying for a minor constitutional ammendment so as to become the first fulltime Austrian resident of the Whitehouse. I could hear the chanting crowd below go from hollering "Ahnold has saved her! The Governator has saved her!" to "Ahnold has saved - huh? It's a man in a tutu!" At that remark Ahnold realized what he'd done and dropped me like a bad porkchop and I tumbled the last fifteen feet to the sidewalk. I didn't mind, it being just a smidgen of the potential 500 foot drop.

 I laid there all akimbo and, well . . . a little bit tumescent still, grinning at the tremendous new direction my life had taken, while everyone stared incredulously at me. Clearly, they could not fathom what I been doing up a radio tower dressed like that or why Conan the Barbarian had been willing to touch me. Not wanting to spoil the magic, I fumbled around in my pocket for the one bulb that had survived the fall and held it up as proof of a miracle of some kind. My eyes tracked naturally to the photographer with the Fox News Network badge stuck in his forehead. What a shame, I thought, that the poor bastard couldn't have gotten a job as a bus boy or something. Out of sympathy for his plight, I handed him the bulb and said, "Here, I don't think this one is much good - least as far as light goes. But it might be something your network can milk 24-hours a day for a solid month." With very little effort I was sure he'd be able to get Sean Hannity to argue with someone over it. I reached out to shake the Governator's hand but he already had it on someone's ass, so I didn't get to. Everyone's eyes were on Ahnold so I just limped quietly away in my sweaty rubber monster feet. I'm tellin' you, my rowdy punkin smashin' friends, it's the last time I go anywhere in a get-up like that.

 I can't tell you how good it feels to come finally clean with you and be the real me. Whew! I'm going to see if I can get some help with this windmilling leg and I'll be writing you again soon.

 Yer ol' fren,

December 7, 2004
Howdy Holidays, my attractive, sweater-wearin' pals,

Tonight I saw a charming little gem of a film, called Garden State. I stayed long after the crowd had left, partly because I wanted to savor the sweet mood, but also because I wanted some privacy in which to put my pants back on. (just joking, I would never eat Kettle Korn without wearing hardy, canvas britches) Actually, I lingered also because I wanted to watch the credits and find out who sang a hauntingly beautiful song called Let it Go. (a woman called
Frou Frou, if you can believe it) So imagine my surprise when, upon entering this crowded Sunday evening coffee shop afterwards, I heard the soundtrack CD from that very movie playing over the stereo. It can be no accident that it followed me here, so I'm going to go with the mood and write what is in my heart tonight.

You couldn't help but warm to every one of the characters in the movie - even the unlikable ones. They were all such wounded and tender lost souls - like so many of us at certain dark periods in our lives - wounded and aimlessly wandering through life in a dull fog until some vague pathway can be found again. I feel like our entire country is wandering in the fog these days and it's difficult to find clarity when the whole world around us seems lost.

Watching the characters onscreen gradually come to self-acceptance, learning to love themselves again, made me feel hopeful - and it reminded me that there's no shame in losing your way. All the greatest teachers of humanity have done it at some point. I lost my way after 9-11 and my father's passing and have been wandering in the mist for some time now. It's terribly hard to admit it while you're actually lost. You feel like you shouldn't be and, when greeting people on the street, will pretend like the dickens that you're fine and dandy. Meanwhile, you feel restless at bedtime and less excited about life than you used to. Ever go through that? Guess what. So has nearly every human being you know. It's just that we rarely say it. You don't want to be a downer in people's lives. You don't dare reveal you've lost your compass because you just know you'll be judged unworthy by all the high-functioning happy people around you who are so obviously living great, robust lives of purpose and meaning. Whee! It must be grand to be those people! (Note: People in TV commercials are smaller than they appear. In fact, they do not even exist.)

What I find though, when I finally begin to talk to my friends about my grief, is that I don't bring anybody down. When I reveal my condition the people around me suddenly feel free to reveal theirs, too. Then it becomes a dang "Oh, my life sucks" free-for-all. Which is kind of fun, now that your misery has company.

My wise friend, the author, Daniel Deardorff, once said to me, "Michael, everyone you see is waging their own terrible battle." Whoa. The truth of his words struck me deeply. Pain is pain. Loss is loss. Grief is grief. It cannot be measured from one person to the next. I knew that we all had many of the same lessons to learn but I hadn't thought of how mutual our challenges were, how your pain is as deep as mine, how my fears seem as real to me as yours do to you. We just don't often recognize that the conflict in others is essentially the same as the battle raging inside ourselves. Or that distilled to it's essence, it's all a yearning for Unconditional Love and Acceptance.

Many years, starting about the time Thanksgiving is approaching, I begin to feel a sense of loss and loneliness. I love Thanksgiving, the whole concept of feeling grateful for your life and family and friends makes for as beautiful a holiday as I can imagine. But still, about that time I begin to feel the need for more intimacy, more closeness to the people in my life and more meaning in my day to day existence. But people are busy and struggling with their own lives and it's not always easy to come together. I know it's a natural function of the changing seasons that causes me to feel this way; the fleeting beauty of autumn's foliage and the sadness of falling leaves draws me inward, reminding me of time and change and causing me to consider my path in life. And every year, just about the time that I begin to feel this sense of melancholy, there suddenly appear in store windows signs proclaiming this the Season of Joy and Peace. And I don't always feel it. I want to, I know I'm capable of it, I just don't yet. In my own gray mood it can seem impossible to find such warm, glowing feelings.

Watching that sweet surprise of a movie last night, I kept noticing my voice rising up in laughter, escaping my tight throat and ringing loudly throughout the room; warmly, like some benevolent soul that I faintly recalled knowing. I wondered if my laughter was disturbing the other patrons, louder and more frequent than anyone else's in the theater. But who doesn't love laughter? If you listen, you can hear something in your own laugh that you will recognize as the truth you were born with. Truth that nearly all of us begin to forget early in life. But truth is unmistakable music to anyone who hears it. Hearing a laugh that is genuine and rich in love and character is exactly like hearing a melody you want to hear over and over again and cannot get enough of. Hearing my own voice rise up in that darkened movie house reminded me that I like the guy who makes that surprisingly jolly sound - I like the goodness and the love in my laugh and I needed to remember that. And in the sadness I'd been feeling on these recent rainy, gray days, it was a blessing for me to remember that the fellow making that big-hearted laugh must be a pretty good fellow to know.

You probably cannot make yourself laugh, or rather, you cannot force it with any real genuineness. However, you can put yourself in a place where you are likely to laugh. If you've been feeling the pressures of this season, if you've been in grief over something you feel you have lost, if you've been sorrowful since the election or sad at the end of autumn's brilliant display of leaves and feeling lonely as you wander about in chilly wind, under stark, bare branches, go see a funny movie or read a Dave Barry book. Or Anne LaMotte's Bird by Bird. Buy the new Seinfeld DVDs or visit a friend that you always find yourself laughing with - that's the best possible medicine. Allow yourself an afternoon away from guilt and pressure and grief and worry. Give yourself a chance to laugh again. And when you finally do, notice your voice, pay attention to your laughter ringing out. Isn't that a very likeable person? The real you that you have lost touch with? It's really a nice laugh you have, don't you think?

This is your task this Holiday Season: to laugh as often as possible. Why is it a task? Because your brothers and sisters around the world need you to do this. We need each other to lighten this space. You will not be betraying the world's condition if you laugh despite it. You will not be turning away from the pain in the world, the tragedy of war or the devastation of hunger. You will be lightening the burdens of the planet so that we may all breathe deeper, so that we may break the grip of despair and regain the energy to begin healing again. So laugh and bring laughter to your friends. Give gifts of laughter for Christmas: your own. And when you hear a store clerk who has been instructed to no longer say "Merry Christmas," offer you the generic, "Happy Holidays," you may find yourself giggling for no apparent reason and thinking, "Day-um! I yam happy! I guess it really is a Happy Holy Day!"

And I'll confess something to you; I like to seek out the random person with a scowl and see if I can crack it. I'll hide in the bushes and come hurtling out of nowhere and greet him or her with a big ol' toothy grin and a hearty "Merry Christmas to you!" It renders people speechless at first, flustered, like when you holler out to someone in an elevator, "I sure do love you, sir!" I don't care in the least who celebrates Christmas or any other particular holiday. My greeting is about love and joy and our mutual humanhood, not one  holiday as opposed to another. Let's celebrate all of them, Everybody's Holy Days.

And hey, I can not only dish it out, I can take it, too! If you want to salute me with a Holiday greeting I'm unfamiliar with, by all means, do it! Educate me! Greet me with great, unbridled vigor, bellowing exuberantly whatever is your custom to bellow. Slap me on the back with a tie-dyed palamino tail, do your traditional three-legged wedding jig, hiccup twice, smash a cupcake on your forehead and say to me, "Hic, hic, Happy Whickeedoodle to you, my friend! And to All a glorious free fall!" - or whatever is your custom. I won't even flinch, but will skip away happy as a lark and entertaining pleasant imaginings of your unusual Day of Holy. Even if it turns out to be nothing more than a gathering of blindfolded Okies jumping on a trampoline with scissors, I exercise no judgement here.

I wish you a season of great Peace and Joy, my friends.
     ~ Michael

PS, I'm always happy to hear from you.

February 1, 2005

Howdy, my hanky-wavin', wintertime friends,

Well, this is it. I've been putting it off for weeks, but now I must face reality. No, I'm not referring to turning myself over to the Law.  No disrespect to Martha, but what I'm dealing with is far more devastating than a little time-out. What's happened is that, I've . . . (sob), I've. . . I've lost my (slobber), my favorite danged writing place! My beloved caffeine haven in which I so happily type away at my never-ending book and occasional website ramblings. (if this one's no good, well, see what I mean?) I've forever lost my sweet writing nook overlooking the shores of the lovely, milfoil-rich Green Lake, where oft times I would sit at my keyboard and gaze in bliss at joggers in small, attractive outfits, but mostly of course, where I would bow to my work and churn out the witty paragraphs and sensitive confessions you tune in to read when your boss isn't looking. I almost can't even talk about it without spewin' tears, but I must tell you the truth: (sob) the Republic of Starbucks has bought my favorite coffee shop and turned it into a vacant building! I'm guessing that means it's closed and that I'm no longer welcome to linger there all evening for the price of a cup o' chai tea.

I know, I know, you're going to remind me of what I always tell you: namely, to take lots of deep, slow breaths. Unfortunately, that advice is only good if you are calm enough in the first place to keep from fainting - which rules me out. I'm hoping and praying that there will quickly manifest some other location that will feel as good to me, but right now the wound is just too fresh. I feel like entering any other coffee shop would be a betrayal to my regular gal; the one that offered me a window seat on the world and kept me typing away happily these last four years. At the same time, I'm trying to take a spiritual perspective on it; perhaps it was not really a self-serving thing that Starbucks did. (though they are a couple restaurants short on that block) What if they were playing a part in some Divine plan to orchestrate my getting on the ball and finishing my book this year? It's tough to say. Either way, it's enough to make a man cuss like a Kerry-voter and bust some coffee cups on the side of a building - which is fun no matter what kind of mood you're in.

Generally, concerning Divine Intervention, I'm a non-believer. (but that could change if I get home tonight and find a phone message from Diane Lane) I certainly believe in the power of prayers, I just don't believe that mine is picked out and granted over yours. In other words, if I'm standing in line at the bakery and praying that a certain last croissant will still be in the case when I reach the front of the line, and you're praying for the same pastry, well, no matter how pious and devout our pleas, I don't believe that one of us will be Divinely chosen and the other not. However, I do believe that if we both pray earnestly enough, then there just might be one more croissant in back. That's not Divine intervention, it's just good luck. But if I don't end up getting the goody and you do; well, that's wrong and bad and I'd be livid at the injustice of it.

My dearly departed writing sanctuary was called Seattle's Best Coffee - although I almost never drank coffee there, and therefore cannot vouch for the name. Still, it was the perfect venue for my type of casual, humorous writing. There was always lots of foot traffic on the sidewalk outside, regular folks mixed with especially quirky characters dropping in from all walks of life. Occasionally, there would be the interesting street person carrying on a lively conversation with someone  the rest of us couldn't quite make out. So what I'm saying is that I fit right in.

You know that I'm easily amused and that I sometimes howl wildly at my own writing, delighted at my own colorful imagination. At SBC I was free to do this and was never once approached by the management trying to unplug my computer or have me arrested. Oh, once in a while another patron would grin at me and then raise an eyebrow, inferring an invitation for me to share whatever it was on my screen that had me cackling in such a high-pitched giggle. But I never would. (for one thing, I was taught that you do not read crotch-humor aloud in restaurants) What I'd do instead is to read to the curious soul from whatever reading material was lying about my table. I'd pull the ol' switcheroo on him. Though I'd just been slobbering uncontrollably over some wacky, little scenario I'd written, I'd slyly sneak a page of the local paper atop my keyboard and read from it something drearily unfunny - but pretend that it was my own composition and just about the most sparklingly funny gem that I'd ever written.

"Get a load of this," I might say to the curious fellow while reading surreptitiously from the Op-Ed page; "from 135th Street NE to the U-district. The new route will undoubtedly disrupt traffic flow in Ravenna and Wedgwood." Then I might flop my head wildly back, flail my arms like an ambidextrous softball pitcher, and let out a shrill and prolonged guffaw, choking at end of it due to the golf ball-sized wad of gum lodged in my esophagus. When I glance over at my single audience member through tear-smeared eyes, in the place where his smile should be he will invariably be sporting one of those wavy lines cartoonists draw to suggest perplexment. This alone gets me howling again and by now it's not an act; I'm highly entertained and giggling - what a hoot it is to pretend that some dry paragraph about a bus line is funny. "Can you believe this?" I'll continue,
"The new route will undoubtedly disrupt traffic flow?!! Wheee! I was born to write, wasn't I?!" Usually, after an episode like this, very few people in the restaurant will dare to look at me for fear I'll read to them.

Once, in my senior year in high school, I almost got caught holding in my possession a story I'd written about my Economics teacher, Mr. Cole. It was a harmless little tale but absolutely would not have pleased him; containing, as it did a plot involving him and the school vice-principal belly dancing across campus in filmy sarongs and delicate, jeweled sandals. My story had made the rounds through the class and every kid in the room was snickering as they pictured Mr. Tommy Cole with a ruby in his navel and Little Egypt tattooed on his chest. Somehow, through astute classroom mastery, I guess, Mr. Cole caught on that we were all wildly out of sync with his lesson on International Banking. He seemed instantly to know that I was at the center of whatever was amiss and he screeched to a hard, stuttering stop with his piece of chalk and looked directly at me.

Caprock High School
my ol' almer-matter

"Mr. Tomlinson, do you mind sharing with the class what is so very funny that you are slunk down in your chair and drooling like a monkey?" Uh-oh. I swallowed and sat upright. If only he knew that I'd already shared generously with everyone in that room and that this, precisely, was the problem. In the same way that I was occasionally saved by the bell in classes where I was asked a question that I did not know how to answer, something manifested on the floor before me that gave me an instant reprieve; at my foot I noticed a piece of paper. It was torn from a spiral notebook and had clearly been walked upon all day. One side was blank but for dusty footprints. I had no time to see what was written, if anything, on the other side. I just gulped, tried to show a fair amount of contrition, then reached down and picked up that piece of paper and held it out for Mr. Cole. I did my best to affect the facial expression of a small boy turning in his red-hot bb-gun to Grampa after having just "accidentally" pinged his beloved pet parrot in the head. My well-being depended upon my ability to convince Mr. Cole that this sheet of paper was the one-and-only thing we were laughing about.

"Bring it up here, please." he said. Everybody in the room knew that piece of paper was not what we were laughing about. That in itself caused our ruckus to be ratcheted up a notch or two - which happened to make my little gesture of surrender seem all the more authentic to Mr. Cole. It almost seemed real even to me.

He snatched the scrap of paper from my hand and motioned for me to return to my desk. Kids were having to bite their cheeks to keep from laughing aloud and still a few giggles leaked out. I'm certain that there were bladder control problems throughout the room - the situation was that funny. And by the way, laughter is not the only measure of how funny a thing is. Ask any standup comic, what you dream of is for half the room to lose it so badly that they start to pee their pants. Then they're yours for the pickin'. After that, even a mildly slightly funny line will get 'em giggling and spewing. I could name three kids I saw this happen to that day but I won't, because they are now pillars in their communities with their own children who pee pee in class.

We watched Mr. Cole study that paper for some time. When he seemed to find nothing obviously objectionable or funny on the first side, he turned it over to look at the dusty footprints on the back side and the entire room went into hysterics. Then the bell rang and poor Mr. Cole never found out that he'd been visualized dancing with a ruby in his navel by his entire fifth period class. But more important, my story was never discovered by anyone on the teaching staff of Caprock High School and I was able to graduate and go on to become a songwriter and the author of these important website ramblings. Had I been caught, who knows what might have become of me? It could have gone at least a couple of ways; I might have been expelled from school, falling in with the wrong crowd and become a tire thief. Or I might have veered too far the other way and mended my ways so severely that I'd be one of those fellows who does everything just right in life. I'd rather be the tire thief. Certainly, I might have not have become a singer and a writer and you'd not be wasting time every month checking out whatever ridiculous story I've come up with. But I like my life and I like yours too. So let's all give thanks to Mr. Cole, shall we? If you're still out there Tommy, though you've had perhaps thousands of students by now, I hope you'll remember the imaginative kid who handed you that scrap of useless paper and gave your life mystery for a day or two.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

I won't say just which coffee shop I'm trying out this evening. I don't want to appear fickle, but for some time I'm likely to be popping in and out of coffee shops and tea houses around Seattle, seeking just the right lighting, the right mood and atmosphere, the perfect ambiance. Not to mention, a decent place to watch joggers.

In the last week I've been working on a project for an elementary school class. I'm incredibly surprised and honored to say that they're studying my lyrics in their class in a series on respect and friendship. I also recently found out that the music teacher is going to teach the entire school my song, By A Friend. Is that amazing? I spent the last week with my friend and web-guy/graphics artist, Brian Dina, creating a special CD cover for them so that I can make a compilation CD for every kid in the class. I'm entitling the CD Friendship and Goodwill and it's subtitled, "songs for Mr. Rowe's 5th Grade Class." Now that's a title I never thought I'd use on an album cover. We've included every child's name on the back of the CD and I'll surprise them with it as a gift at the end of our session next week. It should be a sweet experience unless they laugh at me and call me an old fart.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

A few weeks ago I played some concerts in Colorado. I'd never performed in the Breckenridge area and really enjoyed being there;especially because it was cold and snowy. We don't get much of either one in Seattle and it was invigorating to get to spend a couple of days there.

Following my concert in nearby Silverthorne, I returned to my room at a bed and breakfast in Breckenridge and, after stowing my guitar in my room, hurried back outside to find a place to have a late bite to eat. It had been nearly 12 hours since I'd eaten and I was certain that I'd find some place to grab a bite at 10:30 on a Friday night. I was dressed as warm as I could be without wearing my bedspread. I'd only brought a light fleece jacket and my parka shell. I tied a bandana around my neck to keep out some of the biting cold and took off walking up Main Street. The temperature was around 18-degrees, and in the stinging wind I was wondering if I'd made a mistake in going out on such a freezing night. Amazingly, I couldn't find a single place to get anything to eat. Though there were a couple of bars open, they were the kind where the room is packed with hollering, rowdy people and I just couldn't picture myself walking in and standing in that mass and trying to eat a burger with no meat. In the first place, just explaining that I want them to "hold the patty" usually takes some doing. I didn't think I could do it in a roaring bar with jostling skiers bumping up against me.

By 11:15, I'd walked a mile and ended up back at my room, still hungry. I remembered two bananas I'd put in my bag for the flight and a Mounds bar I'd bought at the airport. That might sound like a poor meal for a man who had just traveled from Seattle, driven over the mountains and played a concert and without eating the last 12 hours, but I was glad to get it. If you eat it just right, a tiny nibble of Mounds and a big, honkin' bite of banana, you can make 'em both come to an end exactly at the same time. It was a fine dinner.

The next morning I found a coffee shop in an old house on main street. You'll never believe it, but it was a Starbucks - the most rustic one I've ever seen. I had a hot cup of tea and a bagel and drove out of Breckenridge into a snowstorm, still hungry. I'd rented a PT Cruiser - and not on purpose, it's just what they gave me at the rental agency. I was slightly white-knuckled making it over the pass in the snow, but shortly after that the road cleared and the traveling was easier. I got off of I-70 in Georgetown and wound through the little town until I found a street of old shops and cafes and got out to have my first real meal in 24 hours. Perhaps it wasn't the best salad and quesadilla on earth, but I'd swear that it was and will always remember it fondly.

Since I've been home I've been working on a few projects and writing songs. I hope to get back to my book soon. The folks that pre-ordered it, some several years ago, have been unbelievably understanding and patient about something I thought I'd finish and deliver years ago. Some things you just can't explain in life. I will just say this; I love the book; I'm still writing it; I will definitely finish it; I will not forget you. If you ordered a copy, I promise you'll receive it and I deeply believe you'll think it was worth your wait and my time invested. Some things in life just take the time they take. I'm that way with songs. You don't know this but some of the songs you love on my CDs took me years to finish. It's true that I sometimes finish a song in a few days, but many times, though the music will be finished within hours or days, my lyrics can take many months. If I did it any other way you wouldn't enjoy my songs nearly as much.

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It's taken me longer than usual to put up a new monthly rambling this month. In fact, it's not even monthly, is it? It has taken me nearly two months. A few folks have written me, worried that I'm still "wandering in the mist" as I mentioned in December's rambling. No, I'm not. I'm doing well. Though I will certainly find myself lost again in life. It's just the way it seems to work here on Earth. The good part is the knowing that we will also again and again find moments of peace and clarity.

I left December's rambling up in part because I've been busy and, as I mentioned, I lost my favorite writing place. But also, I left it up because I received more wonderful responses about that piece of writing than any other in all my years of having a website. Thank you so much for checking in now and then and for the tremendous goodwill I feel from you. I've been a very fortunate man to have been able to sing my songs for you and receive your appreciation and gestures of friendship all these years.

I hope the remaining winter days are satisfying and peaceful for you and that they lead to an inspiring and invigorating springtime. Keep taking those deep breaths.   

             Yer ol' fren,


February 22, 2005

Howdy my friends,

You know it's been an exciting month when the most remarkable thing you have seen is a cat walking across the yard. (please, don't turn away, I promise this is not going to be as dull as you're thinking) I've told you many times about my adventures with various backyard creatures. Five years ago I began putting food out in a small bread pan. I thought a cat or two might enjoy the snacks. Little did I know that a raccoon family of five, about a dozen cats and several opossums would begin eating out of that little pan. Knowing I was about to go on a two week concert tour, I grew concerned that they'd run out of food while I was out folkslingin', so I bought a five gallon feeder and filled it up. Hmm. What if I was delayed, stranded by thunderstorms at O'Hair? It's happened before; I once had to spend the night on the floor at Stapleton. Luckily, I have little or no qualms about mild thievery and had a fairly cozy booth cushion to sleep on that I stole from an airport restaurant. I took it back the next morning and explained that I'd "accidentally" picked it up when it stuck to my britches. Remembering this untimely travel delay of some years back, I decided to go back to the pet store and buy another five gallon feeder. Filled them both chockfull, hollered "Seeyall!" to the animal kingdom and left town. When I got back after my tour there was about a cup of food left in one of the feeders and nothing in the other. Wow. I couldn't decide if it was a case of my being highly intuitive and correct in my assessment, or whether it was a case of "if you build it, they will come." I'm afraid to put it to scientific trial.

Those of you who read my vitally important ramblings each month may recall that last May I allowed a stray mama cat to have her litter in my house and then kept the kitties until they were three months old before I gave them all away. Well, all those kitties are living wonderful, happy lives now - even Gracie, the mama. This story however, concerns the father of two of the kitties in that litter. (you probably know that kittens in one litter can come from several fathers) He was a large, wild-haired, fierce-looking cat. The two kittens that he fathered were similar in disposition: meaning that they bit and clawed me from time to time and were not amenable to human touch. (they've changed considerably, their owners now tell me)

Doing what cats are so gifted at and I'm just learning

I see this papa cat often - and I hear him even more often. I call him many things, but often I refer to him as Grumpy because of the long, irritated groan he emits whenever I say anything at all to him. Hearing his loud complaint, you could not help but think that Life Sucks Badly for the King, but I think it's simply a disposition he's grown accustomed to exhibiting. I've long suspected that he would like very much to be friendly and outgoing rather than foul tempered and sour. But it's difficult to change what the world knows you to be, don't you think? Haven't you ever wanted to quit playing the part you always play for friends, neighbors, family and just be whatever the heck you want to be that day? I sure do. For instance, I am just completely fed up with being the kindly singer/songwriter sometimes and I want nothing more than to break into a tire store, rip off some nice radials, sell them in a bad neighborhood and buy junk candy with the proceeds. Whee! That would feel so freeing. But Nooooooo, people expect me to come up with song after song about raindrops and I simply do not have the willpower to let them down.

Whoa! Is that tuna in your pocket
or are you just glad to see me?

About ten days ago I was whistling away, scrubbing a pizza pan that looked like tar had been cooked on it. I looked out my kitchen window to watch the squirrels and blue jays and crows playing hopscotch on the ground where I toss nuts and seeds every day. I saw Grumpy and my breath caught when I realized that something was terribly wrong; he was limping badly on three legs, holding his front left paw up close to his body. I immediately thought the worst and imagined his leg was broken. I wanted to help him but knew he was highly unlikely to allow me to touch him, much less feel around on his wounded leg. I went outside and talked to him. He doesn't usually run from me; he grew fairly used to me in the time when I was feeding Gracie and her kittens. I think all the cats know I won't hurt them; what they worry about is the little fluffy tornado-of-a-dawg named Bungee that always squirts out from between my legs when I open the back door and chases all living things just for the sheer glee of watching them scatter. This time I kept her in the house and tried to see if Grumpy would allow me to get close enough to see his paw.

Knowing he was wounded, the last thing I wanted to do was to scare him or cause him to have to flee and hurt his leg further. So I sat down on the frosty ground and talked to him from several feet away. I decided to try to win him over with food. He eats the food I provide at the feeding station all the time but I'm not sure he associates it with me, so I brought out a little piece of chicken I'd bought for my pooch. Bungee would not like this, so I hid it under my arm like a kid sneaking cookies. I went back outside and sat again on the frozen grass and tossed a tiny piece to him. He hobbled toward it and sniffed, then gobbled it right up. "Hey! Things is lookin' up!" his eyes seemed to say. I couldn't believe he wasn't complaining. I continued tossing him small tidbits until he was about three feet from me. I could see his paw now. He laid it on the ground as he crouched and waited for another snack. Good. It didn't appear broken or dislocated. But across the top of the paw I could see the fur had been scraped back, leaving bare skin and possibly a cut. Probably, he'd gotten hurt in a fight, but it looked also like it could have been caught in something; maybe he'd gotten in stuck in a metal grate or between the pickets of a fence. I could get no closer that day but at least I got some good protein and nutrition in him - I knew it would promote his healing.

It's hard to tell from this angle
but I'm the King, dammit!

I spent a lot of time that day trying to figure out what to do to help him. One of my main concerns what he'd do in a cat fight. Spring is in the air and that means male cats fighting for territory and females. I didn't think he'd be able to survive a serious challenge in his condition. Ideally, I'd have loved to have taken him to a vet but if I put out a trap it was highly unlikely that he would be the cat that would end up in it. If I tried to catch him by hand I was going to have to wear leather from head to toe and even then he might shred me. When I'd given the kittens away last summer, three of them had clawed the hell out of me. I still have the scars and a great deal of respect for what a cat might do when you are trying to take them somewhere they don't want to go. For now, I decided, I'd just keep feeding him and see how close I could get. Maybe the answer would come to me or maybe he'd get better.

Each morning for the last 8 or 10 days I've seen him waiting for me in the frosty morning. After three days he was eating out of my fingers. It was very promising - and surprising. This cat was the King of the Jungle, the one that pretty much all the other cats deferred to. I'd never seen him be mean, but then, he didn't have to be. He'd just let out that sour moan of his and everybody knew he was displeased with the situation and instantly deferred to him.

Now that I could get close enough to reach way out and have him take tiny bits of tuna from my fingers, I could see the foot better. I even saw him  take a few gingerly steps on it now and then, but for the most part, he still held it close to his body, so I knew it was really hurting him and he was protecting it. Then, three days ago, I was feeding some of the other kitties when he came out from the bushes, hopping on three legs, and brushed right up against me. I reached down and curled my fingers around his tail and stroked it out to the end, not sure if he'd whip around and slash at me. Instead, he curled back and rubbed against my leg. To my astonishment, when I crouched down to pet him he started purring like a baby. I could not have been more surprised. Ol' Grouchy was allowing a human being to caress him and being a big baby about it at the same time! After a couple of minutes he hobbled away. I didn't try to follow him, feeling fortunate that I was making so much headway in gaining the trust of a feral creature that, as far as I could tell, had never had a home.

Yesterday, I went out bright and early, dressing warmer now that I was catching on to the way that dang frozen ground feels through thin running pants. He hobbled right up to me and curled up. I pet him and baby talked him, rubbing him all over. His purring sounded like music, sweet, peaceful, grateful. Though you can't necessarily tell from a distance, his fur is pretty tangled and knotted up like dreadlocks around his neck and under his legs. There is the temptation to take scissors and trim the clumps but it could mean the difference in life and death if he's attacked. Not many creatures could easily bite through those tangled clumps.

I had talked to my friend, Nancy, in LA, and she had said that a vet had told her that you can use hydrogen peroxide on cats' wounds. I looked around the kitchen for something to put it in so that I could dip his paw. Why the hell I had an empty baby food jar in my cupboard, I don't know. I'm afraid I've gone completely blank on the occasion where that came into my life. Anyway, I filled it with peroxide, then poured some castor oil in a small bowl. (By the way, castor oil is the most healing ointment on the planet, better than Vitamin E, jojoba oil, tea tree oil. I've used it ever since my friend, Jeanne Kreider, turned me onto it twenty years ago and I go nowhere with out it) I hadn't opened the tuna yet so I knew the-cat-formerly-known-as-Grumpy was waiting for it.

When I got back outside, he was waiting for me to pet him some more. I rubbed him all over, feeling his sides and back, almost giving him a deep massage. I nearly lifted him off the ground to test how he'd react and he seemed fine with it. Amazing. This wild feral cat that looked like he'd be about as tame as wild tiger. I reached for his paw and he allowed me to slightly lift that leg. It didn't look bad, but it didn't look quite well, either. I was afraid of infection. I decided to give the peroxide a try and hope he didn't start slashing me with teeth and claws. I actually dipped his entire paw in the bottle and was able to keep it there for a second or two before he squirmed out of my grasp and walked a few feet away. Whew! No deep gashes on hands or face. (Even though I'm pretty much a codger now, I still like to look in the mirror and pretend I'm a youngster. A few deep slashes would make it harder for me to lie to myself.) I ended up dipping the paw three separate times and then, while he was eating tuna, I managed to rub a little dollop of castor oil across the bare skin and wound before he moved away again. I knew the castor oil wouldn't hurt him if he licked it off and even if it was only on there a few minutes, it would promote healing.

This morning I went out to see him and he greeted me like he'd been my kitty his whole life, purring, stretching, exhilarating in the sheer bliss of it all. Man, I must say, cats do know how to acknowledge touch. While he was lost in wonderland, I managed to dip his foot - a little bit longer this time. And I got quite a bit more castor oil on it, too. I could tell he didn't like the feel of oil on his foot. It was funny really, the way he held that paw up like he'd stepped in, well, like he'd stepped in cat shit or something. I noticed though, that when he walked back over to finish his tuna that he was walking on all four legs, a little precariously but it was a hopeful sight.

I'm going to give him a couple more days and if that paw doesn't look good or if he doesn't seem to be using it more, I'm going to throw caution to the wind and try to put him in a carrier and get him to a vet. Wish me luck. Man, I don't want to be shredded. I'm supposed to play a concert south of LA next weekend and would hate to do it in a full body cast. If this all works out well I fully expect that dang Crocodile fellow to invite me down for a TV episode.

I wrote last time about a special compilation CD I'd made for a class of fifth graders at a public school in Seattle. I've gotten wonderful feedback about the idea and was surprised that several folks wrote me and wanted to buy a copy for their kids. The CD was really intended as a one-time, special collection of my songs, which I entitled, Friendship and Goodwill. It was so well received by students and teachers that I'm thinking of creating a CD especially for school kids of all ages around the country. Not children's songs, but the songs I already have written and recorded that contain so many images and messages about life and love and friendship and nature.

There are a number of anti-bullying programs around the country which teach respect and honor to children. What I'd like to do is to take those messages a step further and create a collection of songs that are about Friendship and Compassion for all people and all living things. Because people who like my music have always seemed to come from every age group, I have a feeling that these songs would be appreciated by both little kids and the young people in high schools. It's an idea in it's genesis and if you have some feelings about it or ideas of your own, please let me know. I'll also be looking for the means to create this CD. Though I manufactured and gave the CDs away on my own here in Seattle, in order to continue this in a larger way, I'd have to find some sponsors or organizations interested in financially supporting such a gesture of mentorship and goodwill toward children.

Well, I guess I'll close my little rambling this month. I thank you for checking in on me now and then. I feel blessed that you care enough to do so. I hope this year is an inspiring and uplifting one for you. Spring is in the air and it's a season and a symbol we were given to create hope and promise in our lives over and over again. If you're going through a difficult time right now, do your best to talk about it with a friend or stranger about it. I promise you, someone around you will benefit from what you have to share. And in the sharing of what is difficult to say, you will have allowed light to flow in and fill some of the space previously occupied by darkness and despair. Take a deep breath and have faith in this. You'll feel lighter and more hopeful.

I'll close with the lyrics to one of the songs from my Watching the Storm Roll In - CD, Cherry Blossom Wine.

Take care, my friends,
 ~Michael Tomlinson

Cherry Blossom Wine   ©Michael Tomlinson

I was walking on a cool, kind of cloudy afternoon
Something happens in the spring, I start to drift
Dreams are half-already real, quiet, waiting to reveal
When at last we have the faith, they can come alive and will

Oh, the way it all became is sweeter than it seems
And everything here was born within a dream
And now you and I are part
Of all that's in this yearning heart
That imagines all these things

She scatters seeds along the ground, she pours some water in a pail
When she sprinkles it around, we all think it's rain
Raindrops streaming from her eyes, or from the sky, it's all the same
Her benevolence of life, I just live and drink it in

Oh, the way it all became is sweeter than it seems
And everything here was born within a dream
And now you and I are part
Of all that's in this yearning heart
That imagines all these things

For a moment I was lost in the Cherry Blossom dust
Something finally broke the spell, I'm going home
I think I'm still a little drunk on that Cherry Blossom Wine
I can never get enough, I overdo it every time

Oh, the way it all became is sweeter than it seems
And everything here was born within a dream
And now you and I are part
Of all that's in this yearning heart
That imagines all these things

Go to Past Ramblings XVI