Murky Days in Hell


I was meditating, early in the day
when I reached for what was left
of my second cup of coffee.

It had separated into murkiness.
I was staring into a mirror of my
current state and circumstances.

Murky. Simply murky. But I got
in the car to take care of the
business at hand. The drive was

murder both ways, but I was in
and out in ten minutes. The
dismal deed was done. Gasp!

I was so stressed out when I
got back home, I couldn’t
write on my Mac, so I opened

my old HP and killed aliens in
Halo until I couldn’t see straight.
That would be about an hour.

Which is about all The Covenant
I can take. Playing this game for
fourteen years now and Holy

Smokes! I found a new way to
kill The Hunters by using the
overcharge power output of

a Plasma pistol. Got ’em both.
So, I made it through this gloomy
day after all. I stay amazed at

how God’s grace is enough for
me even on these stupid days
when hope fell off the edge into

the abyss at my feet. This calls
for an end of day fresh cup.
Espresso this time. Espresso to

sip, think, reflect, and wait. And
to give thanks. I’m alone and my
life is a mess. But coffee is good.

I never tire of Halo. I never tire
of God’s goodness on these
murky days in hell. (Satan isn’t

on break during Christmas; he
never takes a day off.) So, try
espresso. Try Halo. Try God.

Odds and Ends No. 62


Flu shot this morning was in and out.
I told her, “I made an appointment
for last week, but you guys ran out.”

“And we’re running out of the high
dose now; good on the low dose.
Which is your dominant arm?”

“My left. Completely so. The right
one just grew.” She didn’t laugh.
“Which dose will you give me?”

“High dose. Then we’ll go with the
right side,” she said as she stuck the
needle in my right shoulder. “You’re

all set. Have a great day.” “Thanks,
you, too.” I got in my car and looked
at the time. Time for coffee. I drove

a few buildings down from the
medical area to the shopping side of
the complex to one of my favorite

Starbucks. Why? They are cordial,
fast—and no drive-through. A small
but busy store. My turn. I ordered

a grande hot Carmel Macchiato and
paid with the app on my phone. All
five tables along the front window

were taken. I took a seat in one of
four chairs in a cluster at the far front
corner of the store next to the side

entrance. I could see the whole store
from here and both entrances. (That
old Vietnam habit still kicks in even

when I don’t think about it.) Tables
one and two: Oldsters on laptops. One
with Bluetooth in his ear. Table three

is a Joe College laptop. Table four has
an older couple. He is drinking hot;
she is drinking cold with a hard cover

book to her right. Her short pixie
hairdo is right out of Peter Pan. Nice
to see a husband and wife laughing,

talking, enjoying each other at any
age. I became aware of the store
music speakers. Bobby Darin singing

“Beyond the Sea.” I look around. I
think I’m the only one listening to
the musical background noise. Two

mature women chatting away at table
five get up and chat their way out the
side door. Dean Martin is singing

“Just in Time” from the Broadway
show comedy hit, “Bells are Ringing.”
Déjà vu. I heard this same song in

another Starbucks not too long ago.
But the show is ancient. I have the
soundtrack on vinyl. Here is some

more trivia. That song used to be
in my repertoire when I studied
acting in NYC ages ago. Part of me

wanted to get up and sing the rest
of it with Dino. The other part of
me had more sense. I took another

sip and stayed put. Isn’t it amazing?
You always remember the words
when someone else is singing them.

Store is getting crowed. About seven
more people in line. Only one high
table in the other corner with Jane

College and two laptops on that
little round table. Holy Smokes! The
Mills Brothers. Great harmony and

distinctive sound. Three of the four
counter stools are taken. To my far
left, two more Jane College on

laptops. Odd. Both blonds in pony
tails. Both dressed in black. And
best friends, no doubt. A noise.

An armored truck pulls up and stops
in the parking lot out front blocking
traffic. A uniformed gent dashes into

the store with a bag and goes behind
the counter and disappears. The
chairs next to me fill up. I think I

hear Nancy Wilson. Store is full. The
tables outside are starting to fill and
it is over one hundred degrees. The

truck is gone; I would normally see
him leave. Time for me to leave. Nice
break. Good coffee. I don’t know why

but sometimes I have to remind
myself that I’m not in Vietnam. It is
over. I smiled as I got up to leave

thinking to myself that I would
enjoy living in Vietnam if I could.
No Starbucks? I could do that. The

sights, smells, and sounds of Vietnam
flashed through my mind’s eye. Loved
Vietnam then; love Vietnam now.

I could do that. I got in the car and
pulled out into traffic leaving thoughts
of Vietnam at Starbucks. For now.

Odds and Ends No. 60


Maybe it was the coffee, but my first hour
of waiting went by very slowly. When I
walked in, I saw the donuts sitting there.

The smaller waiting area was full. It had
the big screen TV. I wasn’t interested in
the donuts or the TV. The other waiting

area was in the center of a showroom.
The children’s playroom was nearby and
certainly within earshot. TV noise or

kids? I put my case down on a chair and
decided to get my second cup of coffee
for the day. They had a Starbucks machine

with two choices of ground beans for one
size styrofoam cup. I added creamer and
a little sugar and returned to my seat.

Two little ones came flying by. Toys in
hand and a bunch of dominos crashing
to the hard linoleum floor. Could I have

been wrong? I thought this being a long
wait would be a good time to start a new
old book. New, because I hadn’t read it

yet; old, because it has been on my shelf
for about seventeen years or so waiting
for this moment. About “codebreaking and

American diplomacy, 1930-1945.” But the
sounds of kids running, playing, and being
chased by their grandmother was getting

to me. My patience is stellar. (Well, in the
vacuum I live in day-to-day. No people. No
calls. No reason to be impatient.) This was

different. I love kids and smile warmly
when I see them in commercials or news
clips. One of the service reps came out

and told the mother that it would take
another hour. I could hear the groans.
Not from the kids; from the adults

hoping their car was ready. I already ate
the glazed donut I said I wasn’t going to eat.
The music coming out of the speakers in

the showroom was static as far as I was
concerned. I couldn’t hear or understand
a word. As I read about the state of our

cryptology efforts in 1919, I heard Karen
Carpenter singing “Close to You.” The
grandmother’s phone was bigger than

his hand but he took it anyway and sat
in a chair close to me. He started to grunt
every four seconds. Loud grunts. How on

earth did I do that? How did I raise two kids?
The little girl ran by, mashed my foot, looked
up and said, “scuseme” with big eyes, cute as

can be. I thought to myself, “Well at least
she is a polite little terror.” Static music was
interrupted by an announcement asking me

to report to the service desk. The woman to
my right looked up from her book and gave
me an “aren’t you lucky” look and smile. As I

made my way to my car, I said a silent prayer
of thanks for every parent in the universe and
for their kids. For peace, quiet, and for coffee.

And for the gallant grandparents who do more
than their fair share. I drove home and put a
kettle on as I wasn’t sure if I wanted coffee or

tea with my sandwich. I put three teaspoons of
Medaglia D’Oro espresso instant in my mug and
happily returned to my vacuum zone for the day.

Odds and Ends No. 57


Trash cans out on Monday nights;
back in on Tuesdays. The blue can
and the green can with its lid open

sticking up in the air are staring at
me through my window. They have
to wait a bit. At eight after one, I

was finishing a late lunch. I made
a specialty grocery run at Sprouts
the other day for a few items. Not

a major shopping event; just a few
things. I treated myself to a package
of three ciabatta rolls. Not on my

list, I justified it by mumbling to my
list, that I live on sandwiches and
deserved a treat. So, today I weighed

out a two ounce serving of sliced
roast beef, sliced open the roll, put
the beef and one slice of provolone

on one side of the bun and a touch
of mayo on the other. Three green
olives. O why not! A few veggie chips.

Then I poured a cup of coffee from
my thermos. Still piping hot from
breakfast. Three turbinado sugars

instead of two. I took my seat at the
kitchen table and opened up my
lunchtime book. I finished the last

bit of this lovely sandwich and “The
Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb”
at the same time wherein rose a

dilemma. This was my thinking. I
used more sugar hoping that it would
dissuade me from eating my usual

dessert. Two or three cookies. Lunch
done; adventure done. Moment of
decision. I lifted the rubber-like cover

off of my mug of coffee and looked in.
A little over half left. Probably over
six ounces. Surely enough for two

tiny weeny cookies. (Be right back.
They are hidden on the third shelf
of my old bookcase.) Hmm. Nice

crunch! I was going to tell you that
I’m not a dipper. And that I don’t dip
anything in coffee or tea. Not one for

floating debris. But as I thought about
it, that is not entirely true. I remember
dipping a plain donut once or twice.

Still don’t like floating debris! Do you
dip? (If you answer “Copenhagen” then
you are obviously reading the wrong

poem. But in the spirit of diversity,
read on.) Let me add. I haven’t smoked
or chewed since on a field exercise in

Germany around 1976. So, why am I
salivating? Cookies will have to do. It
was bad enough having to read about

Sherlock and his before breakfast pipe
habits. (Drat! I miss pipes and cigars,
too!) Do they still make Red Man?

I better go get those trash cans. And,
another cup of thermos coffee. Then
get back to writing my Vietnam memoir.

Odds and Ends No. 51


Today was change toilet seats day.
But I violated my top two rules of
buying retail. I grabbed a cart and

went to a familiar aisle I’d been to
before. I picked up my last three
smoke detectors. Then I went to

the toilet seat aisle to seek out
two replacement seats. I found
the model I was looking for. Only

two left. Retail rule number one:
Don’t buy the last of any item(s) on
on the shelf. I looked high and low.

I pulled them off the shelf. Oddly,
they had the same stock number in
black marker, but the boxes were

different. A curmudgeon of a clerk
turned down my aisle. By the look
on her face I could tell that her

daily plan of customer avoidance
had failed. “How timely,” I said.
She gave her eyeglasses a push

and snarled, “What’s the problem?”
She walked up to my cart and took
out what looked like a Star Trek

tricorder. Retail version. She
scanned both boxes saying, “They
are both the same thing, just

different boxes.” And she walked
away. As I stood there thinking
whether I should violate my retail

buying code, I hoped she went
back to the planet she came from.
Busy day. I had a few more stops,

so I made my way to the cashier.
Three stops later, I was home.
Going on one. Late lunch today!

I was hungry. Sandwich, olives,
and the end of my morning
thermos coffee. Half a mug. I

tasted it for temperature. Not
hot enough. I put a pinch of
Kosher salt in the coffee, then

zapped it for twenty seconds.
I decided no sugar. Added
creamer and took my place at

the table which is always the
same. I ate and continued to
read “Adventure V: The Five

Orange Pips.” Sherlock never
disappoints. One more sip.
That was a good half-a-cup of

coffee! Toilet seat time. Well,
I decided to open the one in
the plain box first. It was still

factory sealed in plastic but
the hinges were different. So,
I looked more closely. It was

the wrong model. Another
thing. The boxes didn’t shake
the same. The wrong model

shook solid; the other made
noise. Something loose inside.
Drat! I violated retail buying

rule number three! How did I
miss that? With trepidation
I opened the one in the right

box, but it makes noise when
you shake it. No plastic wrap.
Open hardware bags and items

loose in the box. What is this?
Not only loose but wrong
hardware; metal instead of

plastic. Someone returned a
“used” toilet seat. Or maybe they
just tried it once. Yuck! Well, I

couldn’t call that store back
because I know I bought the
last two in stock. So, I got on

my laptop and looked up
another store near me. I’ve
been to both. One is ten miles

east of me; another is about
ten miles west of me. I gave
them a call. After a long

complicated recorded message,
I got a customer service rep on
the line. After a short explanation

she said, “Not a problem. We show
seven in stock. One minute, I’ll be
right back.” Once again my US

Army experience came in handy.
I waited. The loud phone music
stopped, I heard a click, and she

said, “Guess what? All of ours are
factory sealed. No tape.” I was out
the door and on the way in five

minutes. I could have kissed her!
“Are you Alan?” I smiled at her as
I approached the counter. I think

the two toilet seat boxes under my
arm were a dead give away. “Cash
or credit card? Credit card takes

three days,” she told me. No brainer.
Cash out, cash in and I was out the
door with the goods. Got home and

got to work. Only needed a 5/8 inch
socket and a screw driver to put the
new ones on. To take the ones off

that came with the house wasn’t
bad but I would have preferred to
have worn a nuclear, biological,

chemical warfare suit, but I didn’t
have one. My other tasks for today?
Tomorrow.